International Telecommunication Union
Acronym: ITU, UIT
Address: Place des Nations, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisation
ITU is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 member states and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. Established 157 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communications infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, intelligent transport systems, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based Earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, internet, cable television and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit www.itu.int.
Some of ITU’s key areas of action include radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, and fixed/mobile and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including future networks), standardisation of various areas and media related to telecommunications, and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. ITU’s work supports emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Intelligent Transport Systems, disaster management, agriculture, smart sustainable cities, and the internet of things (IoT); access and digital inclusion; the accessibility of ICTs to persons with disabilities; digital health; ICTs and climate change; cybersecurity; gender equality; and child online protection, among others. These and many more ICT topics are covered both within the framework of radiocommunication, standardisation, and development work, through various projects, initiatives, and studies carried out by the organisation.
Digital policy issues
Information and communication infrastructure development is one of ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states, sector members, associates, and academia in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired (e.g. cable) and wireless technologies, international mobile telecommunications (IMT), satellite communications, the IoT, and smart grids, including next-generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunications networks in rural areas.
ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities. Through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations.
The international standards developed by ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide. It has 11 technical standardisation committees called Study Groups (SGs), with mandates covering a wide range of digital technologies:
- SG2 – Operational Aspects
- SG3 – Economic & Policy Issues
- SG5 – Environment, EMF & Circular Economy
- SG9 – Broadband Cable & TV
- SG11 – Protocols, Testing & Combating Counterfeiting
- SG12 – Performance, QoS & QoE
- SG13 – Future Networks
- SG15 – Transport, Access & Home
- SG16 – Multimedia & Digital Technologies
- SG17 – Security
- SG20 – IoT, Smart Cities & Communities
The work on standards is complemented by short-term exploration/incubation ITU-T Focus Groups (FGs) whose deliverables guide the ITU-T SGs in new areas of standardisation work:
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (FG-AI4H)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Vehicular Multimedia (FG-VM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Autonomous and Assisted Driving (FG-AI4AD)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Autonomous Networks (FG- AN)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Testbeds Federations for IMT- 2020 and Beyond (FG-TBFxG)
Collaboration among various standards bodies is a high priority of ITU-T. Various platforms were established to support coordination and collaboration on various topics, for example:
- eCollaboration on Intelligent Transport SystemsCommunication Standards (CITS)
- Global Standards Collaboration (GSC)
- World Standards Cooperation (WSC)
- Digital Currency Global Initiative
- Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium
- United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative
The Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators and regulatory and economic metrics, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.
In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, ITU-D launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID) to address the strain experienced by telecommunication networks, which are vital to the health and safety of people. The platform pools experiences and innovative policy and regulatory measures.
Discussions involving the World Bank, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), and the World Economic Forum identified how to bring together communities to support ITU membership in their response to COVID-19. The Speedboat Initiative issued a COVID-19 Crisis Response:
Digital Development Joint Action Plan and Call for Action to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments, and businesses during the pandemic.
Connect2Recover provides country-specific support to reinforce digital infrastructures – using telework, e-commerce, remote learning, and telemedicine to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to support recovery and preparedness for potential future pandemics. ITU worked with the Government of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this initiative. ITU/WHO Focus Group on AI for Health works on a standardised assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions and in early 2020 it created an Ad-hoc Group on Digital Technologies for COVID-19 Health Emergencies (AHG-DT4HE) to review the role of AI (and other digital technologies) in combatting COVID-19 throughout an epidemic’s life cycle; it also delivered guidance on digital technologies for COVID health emergency.
The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on Network and Digital Infrastructure is ‘Reliable connectivity to everyone’.
ITU-D SG1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunications infrastructure, in particular, Question 1/1 on ‘Strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries’; Question 2/1 on ‘Strategies, policies, regulations, and methods of migration and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services’; Question 4/1 on ‘Economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs’; Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights’; and Question 5/2 on ‘Adoption of telecommunications/ICTs and improving digital skills’.
ITU plays a key role in managing the radio spectrum and developing international standards for 5G networks, devices, and services, within the framework of the so-called IMT-2020 activities. ITU-R SGs together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders established the 5G standards.
The activities include the organisation of intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, and the development and implementation of standards and regulations to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and operate without interference.
ITU-T is playing a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of non-radio elements of 5G systems. For example, ITU standards address 5G transport, with Passive Optical Network (PON), Carrier Ethernet, and Optical Transport Network (OTN), among the technologies standardised by ITU-T expected to support 5G systems. ITU standards for 5G networking address topics including network virtualisation, network orchestration and management, and fixed-mobile convergence. ITU standards also address ML for 5G and future networks, the environmental requirements of 5G, security and trust in 5G, and the assessment of 5G quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE).
ITU-R manages the coordination, notification, and recording of frequency assignments for space systems, including their associated earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations towards their eventual recording in the Master International Frequency Register.
ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by determining how to optimise the use of available and suitable orbital resources.
Currently, the rapid pace of satellite innovation is driving an increase in the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSO). With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds to thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications.
Regarding climate change, satellite data today is an indispensable input for weather prediction models and forecast systems used to produce safety warnings and other information in support of public and private decision-making.
ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs assembling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offer. The latest ITU standards in this domain address sustainable power-feeding solutions for IMT-2020/5G networks, energy-efficient data centres capitalising on big data and AI, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.
Emergency telecommunications is an integral part of the ITU mandate. To mitigate the impact of disasters, the timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters is critical.
Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in disaster risk reduction and management. ICTs are essential for monitoring the underlying hazards and for delivering vital information to all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, as well as in the immediate aftermath of disasters for ensuring the timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives. ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:
- Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs).
- Development of tabletop simulation exercises.
- Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP),
- Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management.
ITU activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate prediction, detection, and alerting through the coordinated and effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the establishment of radio standards and guidelines concerning the usage of radiocommunication systems in disaster mitigation and relief operations.
ITU-T SG2 plays a role as the lead study group on telecommunications for disaster relief/early warning, network resilience, and recovery. Other study groups are working on emergency telecommunications within their mandates. Examples are shown in the following paragraphs.
ITU standards offer common formats for the exchange of all-hazard information over public networks. They ensure that networks prioritise emergency communications. And they have a long history of protecting ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. In response to the increasing severity of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardisation experts turning their attention to ‘disaster relief, network resilience, and recovery’. This work goes well beyond traditional protection against environmental factors, focusing on technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes.
ITU standards now offer guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources. They describe the network functionality required to make optimal use of the network resources still operational after a disaster. They offer techniques for the rapid repair of damaged ICT infrastructure, such as means to connect the surviving fibers of severed fiber-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ in various sizes, such as emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.
ITU is also supporting an ambitious project to equip submarine communications cables with climate- and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network. This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings, as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation. This project to equip cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables – is led by the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force (JTF) onSMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012. Currently, several projects are ongoing to realise SMART cables.
In ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/ICT projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. ITU also deploys temporary telecommunications/ICT solutions to assist countries affected by disasters. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries aimed at determining the magnitude of damage to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, ITU and the host country embark on resuscitating the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster-resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.
ITU is also part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.
ITU-D SQ Question 3/1 ‘The use of telecommunications/ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management’ was agreed at the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2022 (WTDC-22) and will operate for the 2022–2025 study period. This Question continues the work of Question 5/2 of the 2018–2021 period.
The ITU/WMO/UNEP Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM), established by ITU-T SG2 has been developing best practices to leverage AI to assist with data collection and handling, improve modelling across spatiotemporal scales, and provide effective communication.
Work includes the following:
- Disruptive Technologies and Their Use in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, a 2019 report.
- The Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19), which took place 6–8 March 2019, Balaclava, Mauritius.
- National Emergency Telecommunication Plans.
- Emergency Telecommunication Simulation Exercises.
- ITU-DSG Question 5/2: Utilizing Telecommunications/ICTs for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management(2018 – 2021) with video and annual deliverables.
- The Guide to Develop a Telecommunications/ ICT Contingency Plan for a Pandemic Response 2020, Focused on Telecommunications/ICT Service Delivery and Business Continuity in the Context of a Pandemic.
- ITU published Women, ICT and Emergency Telecommunications – Opportunities and Constraints in 2020. It explores the digital gender divide blocking women from becoming equal stakeholders in society, putting entire communities at greater risk during emergencies.
- With the ETC, ITU developed the Disaster Connectivity Map (DCM), with information critical for first responders on network outages and connectivity gaps following disasters.
- ITU joined the Crisis Connectivity Charter(CCC) in 2019, joining the satellite industry and the humanitarian community in making satellite communication more available.
- ITU established an ITU Emergency Telecommunications Roster. ITU staff are trained on deployment of ITU telecommunications equipment and on supporting the ETC on the ground.
- ITU, with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), launched a Call to Action on Emergency Alerting in 2021, inviting all partners to support countries in implementing CAP. The organisations are supporting the WMO to establish a CAP HelpDesk.
- Strengthening the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, ITU partnered with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), WMO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), and the World Broadcasting Unions in 2020 to develop Media Saves Lives to reinforce broadcasters’ role in the early warning chain.
ITU works on the development and use of AI to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. To that end, it convenes intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, develops international standards and frameworks, and helps in capacity building for the use of AI.
AI and machine learning (ML) are gaining a larger share of the ITU standardisation work programme in fields such as network orchestration and management, multimedia coding, service quality assessment, operational aspects of service provision and telecom management, cable networks, digital health, environmental efficiency, and autonomous driving.
AI for Good is organised by ITU in partnership with 40 UN sister agencies and co-convened with Switzerland. The goal of AI for Good is to identify practical applications of AI to advance the UN SDGs and scale those solutions for global impact. It’s the leading action-oriented, global, and inclusive UN platform on AI.
Various ITU-T SGs address aspects of AI and ML within their mandates. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements, for example, in the L-, M-, P-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.
The ITU-T AI/ML in 5G Challenge, introduced in 2020, rallies like-minded students and professionals from around the globe to study the practical application of AI and ML in emerging and future digital communications networks and sustainable development. The second Challenge (in 2021) attracted over 1,600 students and professionals from 82 countries, competing for prizes and global recognition. The 2022 Challenge covered a wide range of topics including AI/ML in 5G, GeoAI, and tinyML. By mapping emerging AI and ML solutions, the Challenge fostered a community to support the iterative evolution of ITU standards. To learn more, see the Challenge GitHub.
Several ITU-T FG are considering the use of AI and ML including:
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Autonomous and Assisted Driving (FG-AI4AD)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (FG-AI4H)
Main activities related to ITU-R SGs and reports include:
- ITU-R SG1 covers Spectrum Management and Monitoring. In relation to AI, Question ITU-R 241/1 ‘Methodologies for assessing or predicting spectrum availability’ was approved in 2019 and is under study.
- ITU-R SG6 covers all aspects for the broadcasting service. SG6 deliverables and work items related to AI and ML including Question ITU-R 144/6 ‘Use of artificial intelligence (AI) for broadcasting’; and Report ITU-R BT.2447 ‘Artificial intelligence systems for programme production and exchange’.
- AI forRoadSafetyinitiative: Launched in October 2021, the initiative promotes an AI-enhanced approach to reduce fatalities across road-safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users, post-crash response, and speed control.
During the 40th High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) session in October 2020, an Interagency Working Group on AI (IAWG-AI) was established to focus on policy and programmatic coherence of AI activities within the UN. IAWG-AI, co-led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and ITU, aims to combine the ethical and technological parts of the UN to provide a solid foundation for current and future system-wide efforts on AI with a view to ensuring respect for human rights and accelerating progress on the SDGs. It is a joint effort between ITU and 46 UN agencies and bodies, all partners of AI for Good or members of the UN IAWG-AI. The report usually presents over 200 cases and projects run by the UN system, in areas covering all 17 SDGs and ranging from smart agriculture and food systems to transportation, financial services, healthcare, and AI solutions to combat COVID-19. In 2021, the report was presented for the first time with an Executive Summary, an analysis of all the projects submitted to the report, providing a snapshot of the key tracks, trends, and gaps in AI activities within the UN system.
The UN-led initiative, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), coordinated by ITU, UNECE, and UN-HABITAT and supported by 17 UN agencies and programmes, has been examining how AI can be employed in the smart city domain and through its Thematic Group on Guiding Principles for Artificial Intelligence in Cities for implementing AI-based solutions in line with the SDGs.
ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunications regulators on the occasion of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), which discusses and establishes a regulatory framework for all technologies including AI, and addresses this issue at its two SGs. Several areas under ITU-D SG2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.
Critical internet resources (1)
Over the years, ITU has adopted several resolutions that deal with internet technical resources, such as Internet Protocol-based networks (Resolution 101 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), IPv4 to IPv6 transition (Resolution 180 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), and internationalised domain names (Resolution 133 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role regarding international public policy issues pertaining to the internet and the management of internet resources, including domain names and addresses (Resolution 102 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). In addition, the ITU Council has set up a Working Group on International Internet (CWG-Internet)- related Public Policy Issues, tasked with identifying, studying, and developing matters related to international internet-related public policy issues. This Working Group also holds regular online open public consultations on specific topics to give all stakeholders from all nations an opportunity to express their views with regard to the topic(s) under discussion.
ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.
Digital standards (2)
International standards provide the technical foundations of the global ICT ecosystem.
Presently, 95% of international traffic runs over optical infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. Video now accounts for over 80% of all internet traffic; this traffic relies on ITU’s Primetime Emmy-winning video-compression standards.
ICTs are enabling innovation in every industry and public-sector body. The digital transformation underway across our economies receives key support from ITU standards for smart cities, energy, transport, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and AI and ML.
ICT networks, devices, and services interconnect and interoperate thanks to the efforts of thousands of experts who come together on the neutral ITU platform to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations.
Standards create efficiencies enjoyed by all market players, efficiencies, and economies of scale that ultimately result in lower costs to producers and lower prices to consumers. Companies developing standards-based products and services gain access to global markets. And by supporting backward compatibility, ITU standards enable next-generation technologies to interwork with previous technology generations; this protects past investments while creating the confidence to continue investing in our digital future.
The ITU standardisation process is contribution-led and consensus-based. Standardisation work is driven by contributions from ITU members and consequent decisions are made by consensus. The process aims to ensure that all voices are heard and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse and globally representative ITU membership.
ITU members develop standards year-round in ITU-T SGs. Over 4,000 ITU-T Recommendations are currently in force, and over 300 new or revised ITU-T Recommendations are approved each year.
For more information on the responsibilities of ITU SGs, covering ITU-T SG as well as those of ITU’s radiocommunication and development sectors (ITU-R and ITU-D), see the ITU backgrounder on study groups.
The ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the governing body of ITU’s standardisation arm (ITU-T). It is held every four years to review the overall direction and structure of ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector study group (ITU-T SSGs) (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.
ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.
Internet of things (3)
It also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally through the U4SSC initiative, an initiative supported by 17 UN bodies with the aim of achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).
ITU standards have provided a basis for the development of Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities. More than 150 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.
To complement the work of the U4SSC, the first U4SSC Country Hub has been set up in Vienna, Austria, hosted by the Austrian Economic Centre (AEC). The U4SSC Hub provides a unique platform to accelerate cooperation between the public and private sectors and helps facilitate digital transformation in cities and communities, while enabling technology and knowledge transfer.
The range of applications of the IoT is very broad – extending from smart clothing to smart cities and global monitoring systems. To meet these varied requirements, a variety of technologies, both wired and wireless, is required to provide access to the network.
Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, ITU-R conducts studies on the technical and operational aspects of radiocommunication networks and systems for the IoT. The spectrum requirements and standards for IoT wireless access technologies are being addressed in ITU-R, as follows:
- Harmonisation of frequency ranges, and technical and operating parameters used for the operation of short-range devices.
- Standards for wide area sensor and actuator network systems.
- Spectrum to support the implementation of narrowband and broadband machine-type communication infrastructures.
- Support for massive machine-type communications within the framework of the standards and spectrum for IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G).
- Use of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite communications for the IoT.
ITU-D SG2 Question 1/2 ‘Creating smart cities and society: Employing information and communication technologies for sustainable social and economic development’ includes case studies on the application of the IoT, and identifies the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.
ITU-T SG20 is responsible for studies relating to the IoT and its applications, and smart cities and communities (SC&C). This includes studies relating to big data aspects of the IoT and SC&C, digital services for SC&C, and digital transformation of relevant IoT and SC&C aspects. ITU and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A), established by ITU-T SG20, explores (1) how emerging technologies including AI and IoT can be leveraged for data acquisition and handling, (2) modelling from a growing volume of agricultural and geospatial data, and (3) providing communication for the optimisation of agricultural production processes.
New ITU standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) address the requirements of blockchain in next-generation network evolution and the security requirements of blockchain, both in terms of blockchain’s security capabilities and security threats to blockchain.
ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the FG DLT, these reports provide an ‘assessment framework’ to support efforts to understand the strengths and weaknesses of DLT platforms in different use cases. The Group has also produced a high-level DLT architecture – a reference framework – detailing the key elements of a DLT platform. The FG studied high-potential DLT use cases and DLT platforms said to meet the requirements of such use cases. These studies guided the Group’s abstraction of the common requirements necessary to describe a DLT architecture and associated assessment criteria. The resulting reports also offer insight into the potential of DLT to support the achievement of the SDGs.
Blockchain and DLT are also key to the work of the Digital Currency Global Initiative, a partnership between ITU and Stanford University to continue the work of an ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (FG DFC). The Digital Currency Global Initiative provides an open, neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations. The initiative will share case studies of digital currency applications, benchmark best practices, and develop specifications to inform ITU standards.
ITU-T SG3 is studying economic and policy aspects when using distributed ledger technologies such as for the improved management of the Universal Service Fund or to handle accounting.
ITU-T SG5 is studying the environmental efficiency of digital technologies including blockchain. For example, ITU-T SG5 has developed Recommendation ITU-T L.1317 on guidelines for energy-efficient blockchain systems.
ITU-T SG16 Question 22/16 on multimedia aspects of DLT and e-services and ITU-T SG17 Question 14/17 on DLT security continue the work of the now closed ITU-T Focus Group on distributed ledger technologies. Several Recommendations and Technical Papers have been produced, and more are being prepared.
ITU-T SG20 Question 4/20 on data analytics, sharing, processing, and management, including big data aspects, of the IoT and SC&C, is studying the role of emerging technologies such as blockchain to support data processing and management (DPM).
ITU standards provide the requirements and functional architectures of the cloud ecosystem, covering inter- and intra-cloud computing and technologies supporting anything as a service (XaaS). These standards enable consistent end-to-end, multi-cloud management and the monitoring of services across different service providers’ domains and technologies. They were developed in view of the convergence of telecoms and computing technologies that characterises the cloud ecosystem.
Cloud services provide on-demand access to advanced ICT resources, enabling innovators to gain new capabilities without investing in new hardware or software. Cloud concepts are also fundamental to the evolution of ICT networking, helping networks to meet the requirements of an increasingly diverse range of ICT applications.
As innovation accelerates in fields such as IMT-2020/5G and the IoT and digital transformation takes hold in every industry sector, the cloud ecosystem will continue to grow in importance to companies large and small, in developing as well as developed countries.
ITU-D SG1 Question 3/1 of the 2018–2021 period focused on the analysis of factors influencing effective access to support cloud computing, as well as strategies, policies, and infrastructure investments to foster the emergence of a cloud-computing ecosystem in developing countries, among others. For 2022–2025, this topic will be studied under Question 2/2 ‘Enabling technologies for e-services and applications, including e-health and e-education’.
ITU’s range of work on emerging technologies in fields such as AI, 5G, IoT, SC&C, ITS, quantum information technologies, and others have been covered in various other sections.
ITU-T SG5 on Environment, Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), and the Circular Economy is responsible for ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions. It carries out work to study the environmental efficiency of emerging technologies.
ITU-T SG20 Question 5/20 on the study of emerging digital technologies, terminology and definitions, serves as a facilitator with the research and innovation community to identify emerging technologies requiring standardisation for the global market and the industry.
U4SSC, through its various thematic groups, explores how leveraging emerging technologies such as the IoT, AI, blockchain, and digital twin, can help create a sustainable ecosystem and improve the delivery of urban services to improve quality of life for inhabitants. In this context, U4SSC has published the following reports:
- Digital Solutions for Integrated City Management and Use Cases
Quantum information technology
Quantum information technology (QIT) improves information processing capability by harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics. It has promoted the second quantum revolution and will profoundly impact ICT networks and digital security.
ITU’s work in the area of QIT includes developing standards. For example, several ITU-T SGs, including SGs 11, 13, and 17 are developing ITU-T Recommendations in this field. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements in the X-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.
The ITU-T Focus Groupon Quantum Information Technology for Networks (FG-QIT4N) provided a collaborative platform for pre-standardisation aspects of QIT for networks. It adopted nine technical reports.
A 2021 webinar series explores innovative QIT applications and their implications on security, on classical computing and ICT networks and the discussion of corresponding roadmaps for quantum networks.
ITU and the WSIS Action Line C5 – Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs, bringing different stakeholders together to forge meaningful partnerships to help countries address the risks associated with ICTs. This includes adopting national cybersecurity strategies, facilitating the establishment of national incident response capabilities, developing international security standards, protecting children online, and building capacity.
ITU develops international standards to build confidence and security in the use of ICTs, especially for digital transformation. Topics of growing significance to this work include digital identity infrastructure, cybersecurity management, security aspects of digital financial services, intelligent transport systems, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and quantum information technologies.
ITU-T SG17 (Security) is the lead SG on building confidence and security in the use of ICTs; facilitating more secure network infrastructure, services, and applications; and coordinating security-related work across ITU-T SGs. Providing security by ICTs and ensuring security for ICTs are both major study areas for SG17. Other ITU-T SGs, such as ITU-T SG9 (Broadband Cable and TV) and ITU-T SG13 (Future Networks, with Focus on IMT-2020, Cloud Computing and Trusted Network Infrastructures) contributed to fulfilling the ITU mandate on cybersecurity.
ITU-TSG5 (Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy) studies the security of ICT systems concerning electromagnetic phenomena (High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), High Power Electromagnetic (HPEM), information leakage).
ITU-T SG11 (Protocols, testing & combating counterfeiting) is developing a series of new ITU-T Recommendations (e.g. ITU-T Q.3057), which define the signalling architecture and requirements for interconnection between trustable network entities in support of existing and emerging networks. This Recommendation describes the use of digital signatures (digital certificates) in the signalling exchange which may guarantee the trustworthiness of the sender. More details are available at http://itu.int/go/SIG- SECURITY.
ITU-T SG20 Question 6/20 on Security, privacy, trust and identification for IoT and SC&C, is working on developing recommendations, reports, and guidelines on security and trust provisioning in IoT both at the ICT infrastructure and future heterogeneous converged service environments. ITU-R established clear security principles for IMT (3G, 4G and 5G) networks.
In 2008, ITU launched a five-pillared framework called the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) to encourage co-operation with and between various partners in enhancing cybersecurity globally. The cybersecurity programme offers its membership, particularly developing countries, the tools to increase cybersecurity capabilities at the national level in order to enhance security, and build confidence and trust in the use of ICTs. The 2022 session of the ITU Council approved guidelines for better utilisation of the GCA framework by ITU.
ITU serves as a neutral and global platform for dialogue around policy actions in the interests of cybersecurity.
ITU issues the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) to shed light on the commitment of ITU member states to cybersecurity at the global level. The index is a trusted reference developed as a multistakeholder effort managed by ITU. In the last iteration of the GCI, 150 member states participated.
Alongside the ITU-T’s development of technical standards in support of security and ITU-R’s establishment of security principles for 3G and 4G networks, ITU also assists in building cybersecurity capacity.
This capacity-building work helps countries to define cybersecurity strategies, assists the establishment of computer incident response teams (CIRTs), supports the protection of children online, and assists countries in building human capacity relevant to security.
Strategies: ITU assists member states in developing and improving effective national cybersecurity frameworks or strategies. At the national level, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, which requires coordinated action for prevention, preparation, and response on the part of government agencies, authorities, the private sector, and civil society. To ensure a safe, secure, and resilient digital sphere, a comprehensive national framework or strategy is necessary.
CIRTs: Effective mechanisms and institutional structures are necessary at the national level to deal with cyberthreats and incidents reliably. ITU assists member states in establishing and enhancing national CIRTs. In response to the fast-evolving technologies and manifestation of related threats, incident response must be updated and improved continuously.
Building human capacity:
- ITU conducts regional and national cyber drills, assisting member states in improving cybersecurity readiness, protection, and incident response capabilities at regional and national levels, and strengthening international cooperation among ITU member states against cyberthreats and cyberattacks. To date, ITU has conducted cyber drills involving over 100 countries.
- ITU’s Development Bureau organises regional cybersecurity forums across ITU regions, helping build capacity for Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) programmes and facilitating cooperation at the regional and international levels.
- Through the ITU Academy, ITU offers a number of training courses for professionals in the field of cybersecurity.
- BitSight provided access to ITU member states for its cybersecurity scoring platform – helping address cybersecurity challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and to support member states’ health infrastructure with timely information on cyberthreats.
- The Women in Cyber Mentorship Programme builds skills of junior women professionals entering the field of cybersecurity.
International cooperation: In its efforts on cybersecurity, ITU works closely with partners from international organisations, the private sector, and academia, strengthened by a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a range of organisations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Bank, Interpol, World Economic Forum, and several others.
Child safety online (4)
As part of its Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA), ITU launched the Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative in 2008, aimed at creating an international collaborative network and promoting the protection of children globally from all kinds of risks and harms related to the online environment, all while empowering children to fully benefit from the opportunities that the internet offers. The initiative focuses on the development of child online protection strategies covering five key areas: legal measures, technical and procedural measures, organisational structures, capacity building, and international cooperation.
Approaching child online safety with a holistic child-rights-based approach, the initiative has recently added to its key objectives the participation of children in policy-making processes related to child online protection as well as the digital skills development for children and their families.
In collaboration with other organisations, ITU has produced four sets of the 2020 Child Online Protection (COP) Guidelines, aimed at children, parents, guardians, and educators, as well as industry and policymakers. The first set of COP Guidelines were produced in 2009. The ITU Council Working Group on Child Protection Online (WG- CP) guides the organisation’s activities in the area of child safety online.
ITU has launched or supported a range of COP responses specific to COVID-19, including:
- Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 response – a collaboration between UNESCO, UNICEF, ITU, WHO, GSMA, and Microsoft.
- Agenda for Action to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on children.
- COVID-19 and its Implications for Protecting Children Online (2020) – in collaboration with UNICEF, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (GPEVAC), UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO, and World Childhood Foundation USA (Childhood USA).
- ITU signed an agreement with the SCORT Foundation on COP to empower and protect children online and offline, both in sport and through sport. It has contributed to discussions such as Safer Internet Day 2021 and the 15th European Football for Development Conference.
- Creating a Safe and Empowering Cyber Environment for Children (a 2020 agreement between ITU and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) kicked-off in August 2021 to further strengthen global efforts to implement the ITU COP Guidelines. The programme implements child online safety policies among governments, industry, and civil society and focuses on fostering a culture of child online safety.
The need for sustained efforts to expand internet access at a global level and bring more people online has been outlined in several resolutions adopted by ITU bodies. The organisation is actively contributing to such efforts, mainly through projects targeted at developing countries and focused on aspects such as human and institutional capacity building, education, and digital literacy; deployment of telecommunications networks and establishment of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs); the creation of broadband public access points to the internet; and the development and implementation of enabling policies in areas such as universal access. The organisation is also studying access-related issues within its various study groups, and it publishes relevant papers and studies. ITU also monitors progress made by countries in addressing the digital divide, through its periodically updated statistics and studies such as the ICT Facts and Figures and the series of Measuring Digital Development reports, including its analysis of ICT prices. The ITU DataHub brings together a broad range of indicators and statistics for easy consultation and download. The Connect 2030 Agenda envisions specific targets related to internet access; for instance by 2023, 65% of households worldwide will have access to the internet; by 2023, 70% of individuals worldwide will have with access to the internet; and by 2023, internet access should be 25% more affordable.
Access is treated in most meaningful connectivity-related Questions of ITU-D SG1 including:
- Question 1/1 on strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries.
- Question 2/1 on strategies, policies, regulations and methods of migration to and adoption of digital technologies for broadcasting, including to provide new services for various environments.
- Question 4/1 on economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs.
- Question 5/1 on telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas.
- Question 6/1 on consumer information, protection and rights.
ITU is the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.
ITU is heavily involved in capacity development activities, mainly aimed at assisting countries in developing their policy and regulatory frameworks in various digital policy areas, ranging from the deployment or expansion of broadband networks, to fighting cybercrime and enhancing cybersecurity. The ITU Academy provides a wide range of general and specialised courses on various aspects related to ICTs. Such courses are delivered online, face-to-face, or in a blended manner, and span a wide variety of topics, from technologies and services, to policies and regulations. ITU also develops digital skills at basic and intermediate level to citizens through its Digital Transformation Centre (DTC) Initiative.
The Digital Regulation Handbook and Platform is the result of ongoing collaboration between ITU and the World Bank, which started in 2000. Structured by thematic areas, the Digital Regulation Platform aims to provide practical guidance and best practice for policymakers and regulators across the globe concerned with harnessing the benefits of the digital economy and society for their citizens and firms. The content provides an update on the basics of ICT regulation in light of the digital transformation sweeping across sectors and also includes new regulatory aspects and tools for ICT regulators to consider when making regulatory decisions.
The inclusivity of the ITU standardisation platform is supported by ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) programme as well as regional groups within ITU-T SGs. The BSG hands-on SG effectiveness training and updated guidelines for National Standardization Secretariats (NSS) assist developing countries in developing the practical skills and national procedures required to maximise the effectiveness of their participation in the ITU standardisation process.
Digital services and applications
The Digital Services and Applications programme offers member states the tools to leverage digital technology and ICT applications to address their most pressing needs and bring real impact to people, with an emphasis on increasing availability and extending services in areas such as digital health, digital agriculture, digital government, and digital learning, as well as cross-sectoral initiatives to accelerate sustainable development such as smart villages.
To effectively harness digital services and applications for socio-economic development, the programme facilitates:
- development of national sectoral digital strategy (including toolkits, guidelines, capacity building, action plans, and evaluations);
- deployment of innovative digital services and applications to improve the delivery of value-added services, leveraging strategic partnerships as catalysts;
- knowledge and best practice sharing through studies, research, and awareness raising, connecting stakeholders in converging ecosystems; and
- addressing emerging technology trends – such as big data and AI – by collecting and sharing best practices.
ITU works on helping member states create and mature their digital innovation ecosystems. The Digital Ecosystem Thematic Priority has developed a framework to help countries develop appropriate ICT-centric innovation policies, strategies, and programmes; share evidence- based best practices; and implement bankable projects to close the digital innovation gap. Countries are empowered to develop an environment that is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, where advances in new technologies become a key driver for the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Connect 2030 agenda.
ITU assists member states through its events, courses, publications, toolkits, and provision of technical advice. Its Ecosystem Development Projects initiative, for example, provides holistic advisory services including ecosystem diagnosis, risk assessment, good practice transfer, and capacity building. Events include its National and Regional Innovation Forums, which bring ecosystem stakeholders together to equip them with the skills to build their national innovation ecosystems; the ITU Innovation Challenges, which identify the best ICT innovators from around the world and equip them with skills to scale their ideas to truly impact their communities; courses on developing and maturing ecosystems (available at the ITU Academy); and Digital Innovation Profiles, which provide a snapshot of a country’s ecosystem status and allowing them to identify and fill the gaps using ITU tools and expertise.
ITU, as the UN specialised agency for ICTs, continues to support its membership and to contribute to the worldwide efforts to advance the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve its SDGs.
The 17 SDGs and their 169 related targets offer a holistic vision for the UN system. The role and contribution of ICTs as essential catalysts to fast-forward achievement of the SDGs is clearly highlighted and has come into focus since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Infrastructure, connectivity, and ICTs have demonstrated their great contribution and potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divides, and to develop digital societies.
ITU has a key role to play, in realising its main goals of universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation, in contributing to achieving the SDGs. ITU contributes to the achievement of the SDGs with four levels of involvement:
- ICTs as an enabler: ITU can be seen as a contributor to all SDGs through the benefits that ICTs bring to societies and economies.
- Focus: SDGs with no specific reference to ICTs but where ITU has demonstrated to have a clear impact through the benefits ICTs bring to specific sectors and activities (e.g. e-health, digital inclusion, smart cities, e-waste, climate change). These are SDGs 1, 3, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
- Key focus: SDGs where ITU has a particularly strong impact due to its initiatives, and is custodian of some indicators. These are SDG 4 (Quality Education), with its Target 4b to ‘… expand globally the number of scholarships, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and ICTs, technical, engineering and scientific programmes…’; and SDG 5 (Gender Equality), Target 5.b on ‘…the use of enabling technology, in particular ICTs, to promote the empowerment of women’. And Indicator 5b.1 on the ownership of mobile phones, by sex.
- Main key focus: SDGs where ITU maximises its contribution, such as SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals). Here ITUis also custodian of related Targets 9.c on ‘…. ICTs to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet…’; and its Indicator 9c.1 on coverage by a mobile network and by technology. As well as Target 17.8 to ‘….enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology’; and its Indicator 17.8.1 about individuals using the internet.
The ITU Connect 2030 Agenda is specifically dedicated to leveraging telecommunications/ICTs, including broadband, for sustainable development. The agenda is built around five goals: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership. In addition, ITU-D works on fostering international cooperation on telecommunications and ICT development issues, and enhancing environmental protection, climate change adaptation, emergency telecommunications, and disaster mitigation and management efforts through telecommunications and ICTs. These and other related issues are explored in reports, guidelines, and recommendations produced by ITU-D SGs. Additionally, ITU-T SGs such as ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead SG and develops standards on circular economy and e-waste management, ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions, which help to achieve the SDGs.
The ITU strategic plan is aligned to the WSIS Action Lines and SDGs. Since 2015, the WSIS process has been aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure that ICTs play the enabling role in advancing the SDGs.
Inclusive finance (5)
ITU has built a substantial programme of work in support of digital financial inclusion. ITU standards for digital finance address the security of telecommunications infrastructure (Signalling System No. 7 (SS7)) vulnerabilities, SIM vulnerabilities and SIM fraud), process for managing risks, threats, and vulnerabilities for digital finance service providers, assessing the quality of service of mobile networks to improve reliability and user experience for digital financial services and methodology for auditing the security of mobile payment applications to assess their level of security assurance. They provide for a high quality service and user experience, and safeguard security to build trust in digital finance.
ITU’s work in this field has included the ITU Focus Group on Digital Financial Services (2014–2017), the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (2017–2019), and the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (2017–2021), a four-year programme to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial inclusion in developing countries co-led by ITU, the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, and with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ITU has also set up a Digital Financial Services (DFS) Security Lab to collaborate with regulators from both the telecom and financial services sectors in emerging economies as well as regional telecom bodies such as the Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA), The East African Communications Organization (EACO), and West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) to adopt the recommendations developed under the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and assess the security of mobile payments applications. The methodology developed for the security audit of mobile payment applications would be developed into a digital public good standard in the future. Through the Security Lab, some 17 security clinics have been held in Africa, Latin America, and Asia regions, providing information and technical guidance to regulators, DFS providers and mobile network operators in those regions on how to adopt the security recommendations for digital finance.
ITU organised the Insights on Digital Financial Services webinar series in 2020 with the objective of providing insights on the innovative applications of telecommunications services, digital payments, and fintech in addressing COVID-triggered social distancing and lockdown and sharing lessons learned from governments and DFS stakeholders on the measures that they are implementing. Twelve webinars were held between May and December 2020 attracting over 1,000 unique participants from 105 countries. The webinars focused on topics such as digital identity, strong authentication technologies, security of digital financial transactions, handling fraud and scams, tracking digital financial crimes and fraud, digital credit technologies, mitigating telecom infrastructure vulnerabilities for digital finance and central bank digital currency.
ITU and Stanford University launched the Digital Currency Global Initiative (DCGI) in 2020 to continue the work of the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency. The DCGI provides an open and neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations.
ITU works in developing policies, standards, frameworks, and guidelines for the efficient disposal of e-waste to achieve a circular economy. ITU has the mandate to promote awareness of the environmental issues associated with telecommunication/ICT equipment design and encourage energy efficiency and the use of materials in the design and fabrication of telecommunication/ICT equipment that contributes to a clean and safe environment throughout its lifecycle (Res.182 (Rev. Busan, 2014));
ITU works towards achieving the 2023 targets related to waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), or ‘e-waste’, established in 2018 by the Plenipotentiary Conference by: increasing the global e-waste recycling rate to 30%; and raising the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation to 50%.
ITU-D has been mandated to assist developing countries in undertaking a proper assessment of the size of e-waste and in initiating pilot projects to achieve environmentally sound management of e-waste through e-waste collection, dismantling, refurbishing, and recycling. To this end, the organisation supports countries in developing national policies on e-waste, and works together with industry partners from the public and private sectors to stimulate coordinated actions towards a circular economy model. ITU-D and ITU-T SGs also explore issues related to ICTs and the environment.
ITU-T has been mandated to pursue and strengthen the development of ITU activities in regard to handling and controlling e-waste from telecommunication and information technology equipment and methods of treating it; and to develop recommendations, methodologies, and other publications relating to sustainable management of e-waste resulting from telecommunications/ICT equipment and products, and appropriate guidelines on the implementation of these recommendations. ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead ITU-T SG on the circular economy and e-waste management.
ITU-T SG5 has a dedicated Question (Q7/5) on ‘E-waste, circular economy, and sustainable supply chain management’. This Question seeks to address the e-waste challenge by identifying the environmental requirements of digital technologies including IoT, end-user equipment, and ICT infrastructures or installations, based on the circular economy principles and improving the supply chain management in line with SDG 12, target 12.5 by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
A case study on the Implementation of ITU-T Standards on Sustainable Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment: The Path to a Circular Economy in Costa Rica was published in 2021.
In 2021, ITU with the World Economic Forum released a toolkit on extended producer responsibility for e-waste management, with a focus on African countries.
Rights of persons with disabilities (6)
Globally, ITU has continued conducting technical work in ITU-R, ITU-T, and ITU-D SGs advancing the use of telecommunications and ICTs for persons with disabilities; and developing resources to support member states in establishing environments that ensure accessible telecommunications/ICTs – work conducted with the participation of persons with disabilities and aligned with the Connect 2030 Agenda. ITU-D advanced regional initiatives linked to ICT accessibility, with projects, training, and events, and provided support to ITU administrations in almost every region, including organising Accessible Americas and Accessible events. More information is available here.
ITU-D Study Question 7/1 continues to focus on telecommunication/ICT accessibility to enable inclusive communication, especially for persons with disabilities for 2022–2025 as has been agreed at WTDC–22.
The 2021 released SG Question 7/1 report (available free of charge in all UN official languages) with its accompanying video and the focused workshop and webinar confirm the careful attention given to this topic.
ITU’s work on accessibility includes regional events, ICT accessibility assessment, and the publication of new resources and handbooks. ITU has developed capacity-building materials to promote the adoption of accessible solutions, including 15 video tutorials on development and remediation of accessible digital content.
A range of activities is detailed below.
- ITU Regional Knowledge Development Platforms/Forums
- ITU has organised regional events that allow ITU members and stakeholders to share good practices and challenges, and to help develop digitally inclusive societies in these regions. Further regional events are set out below.
- Accessible Asia-Pacific (ASP): Regional Dialogue on Digital Transformation: Gearing Up for Inclusive and Sustainable Development, virtual event, 2021.
- Accessible Arab Region: ICT for ALL, Egypt, 2021, in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA). Participants identified ways forward to implement and mainstream digital accessibility, showing how technology can ensure inclusiveness and empowerment of all.
- Accessible Americas: ICT for ALL, Cuba 2021, featured discussions with policymakers and stakeholders on ICT/digital accessibility in the context of COVID-19.
- Accessible Africa, virtual, 2021. Five online, interactive workshops sought to strengthen the capacity of 175 regional Focal Points from 42 African countries on ICT/digital accessibility.
- Accessible Europe: ICT for ALL 2021, virtual, 2021. Over 240 participants from more than 40 countries discussed how to remove barriers to enable the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, through cooperation, programmes, and training.
- Accessible the Commonwealth of independent states (CIS): In 2021 the CIS Region has shown increased interest in ICT accessibility implementation to ensure equal digital empowerment through ICT.
Assessing and monitoring the implementation of ICT accessibility
- ITU Self-Assessment and Toolkit for ICT AccessibilityImplementation: Towards building InclusiveDigital Communities. This resource supports all ITU members, policymakers, and stakeholders in building inclusive digital communities. It also enables countries and organisations to assess themselves, obtaining an immediate overview of the level of their ICT accessibility implementation.
- ICT Accessibility Assessment for the Europe Region provides ICT accessibility assessment for the Europe region. See also the ITU Assessment of Digital Accessibility Policies in Serbia.
WSIS Forum 2021: ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs
- WSIS Forum 2021 featured ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs, with virtual workshops on innovative technologies, bringing together experts and stakeholders to discuss how to leverage ICTs to help people with blindness and vision impairment and how to provide inclusive education for all – showcasing emerging assistive technologies.
Self-paced online training courses
- In 2021, two self-paced online training courses in ICT accessibility were developed, available in Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Both ICT Accessibility: The key to inclusive communication and Web Accessibility – The Cornerstone of an Inclusive Digital Society are delivered through ITU Academy in three modules.
Other accessibility resources
- Additional ICT accessibility training and resources are available here. The update to the Handbook on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcasting networks and systems implementation outlining Accessibility to broadcasting services for persons with disabilities is also part of ITU’s accessibility work.
Events and opportunities to support the global implementation of ICT accessibility
- ITU contributed to the development of the Disability Inclusion Practice Note on ICT & Digital Accessibility and its Additional Resources. ITU participated in the Digital Inclusion Summit – Leaving No One Behind, organised by the International Training Centre in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) (July 2021). In 2019, the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UN DIS) was adopted, including significant inputs from ITU. In 2020, ITU prepared its report on the strategy implementation and reviewed its Accessibility Policy accordingly
- ITU contributed to the first-ever celebration of Universal Design Day in 2021.
- ITU shared its expertise on ICT accessibility and disability inclusion with 131 UN Country Teams’ representatives during two webinars on ICT and Digital Accessibility, held virtually in 2021.
Making ITU a more accessible organisation for persons with disabilities
- ITU continues to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities, including staff, delegates, and the general public.
- To ensure the structure and content of ITU websites, videos, publications, digital documents, and digital information are all digitally accessible, training events are under preparation (will take place in February 2022).
- To provide fully accessible ITU events, an invitation to bid for the provision of real-time captioning was completed in November 2021. Proposals for captioning in French, Spanish, and Chinese have been submitted.
- In 2019, ITU provided captioning across ITU events and major conferences, sign language interpretation in selected ITU-T accessibility meetings and in making ITU websites accessible. ITU has also modified internal production to generate accessible publications in the six official languages.
COVID-19: Ensuring digital information is accessible to all
- In March 2020, ITU issued COVID guidelines on how to develop inclusive digital information products and services through different digital platforms, in all six official UN languages. The guidelines contain messages and concrete actions to support policymakers and communicators in ensuring that COVID- related messages and vital digital information are accessible to all people, including persons with disabilities. These ITU guidelines were globally disseminated and translated into 22 other languages within the framework of the UN joint COVID-19 response and recovery emergency working group on the health workstream.
- To ensure that deaf and hard of hearing persons were not excluded, ITU produced a Guideline on web-based remote sign language interpretation or video remote interpretation.
Gender rights online (7)
ITU is involved in activities aimed at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through ICTs.
ITU is custodian of three gender-related SDG indicators: the proportion of individuals who (1) own a mobile phone; (2) use the internet; and (3) have ICT skills. ITU’s Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures 2021 shows that, in all regions, the gender Internet divide has been narrowing in recent years, and calls for more action on cultural, financial, and skills-related barriers that impede Internet uptake among women. ITU has launched several targeted efforts to bridge the gender digital divide and advance the Connect 2030 Agenda. Below are some highlights of ITU’s work on gender.
Together with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations University (UNU), GSMA, and the International Trade Centre (ITC), ITU launched the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age with over 100 partners working together to ensure that women are given access, are equipped with skills, and develop the leadership potential to work in the ICT industry. Under this initiative, ITU contributes with the annual flagship event the EQUALS in Tech Awards. The awards are given every year to organisations and individuals working to help girls and women gain equal internet access, learn digital skills, and find opportunities in the tech industry. The initiative is dedicated to encouraging girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICTs.
The African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) was started in Africa in collaboration with UN Women and the African Union Commission (AUC) with the aim to train and empower girls and young women aged 17 to 20 across Africa to become computer programmers, creators, and designers. The initiative has also been launched in the Americas region with a focus on equipping girls with coding skills and generating interest in the pursuit of ICT careers.
ITU WRC-19 also adopted a declaration that promotes gender equality, equity, and parity in the work of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector.
ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C4 – Capacity building.
Network of Women (NoW): Encouraging gender balance
Encouraging and tracking gender-balanced representation and nominations of women for key roles strengthens women’s participation in ITU meetings. The aim is to build a community where female delegates can network, share their experience, and promote the participation of women – increasing their visibility, empowering them, and encouraging experienced female delegates to mentor ICT professionals in the digital space.
In 2021, BDT launched the Network of Women (NoW) at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) to increase the number of women participating in ITU-D meetings and taking up leadership roles in preparing the WTDC itself. Within this framework, ITU launched the global mentorship programme and fireside discussions.
At the World Radiocommunication Seminar Online 2020, ITU-R launched the NoW for WRC-23 to promote gender equality, equity and parity within the ITU Radiocommunication Sector. The NoW for WRC-19 (#NOW4WRC19) efforts culminated in a Declaration on Promoting Gender Equality, Equity and Parity in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector, adopted at WRC-19 in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Capacity-building that empowers indigenous communities through technology
Capacity-building training for indigenous communities has empowered indigenous people and communities through technology. The training is tailored to needs and interests and has taken into account self-sustainability aspects and cultural legacy.
The programme has reached 70 indigenous participants throughout the Americas, 21 of whom have completed the full programme – from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru. Thirty per cent of participants were indigenous women.
The course Technical Promoters in Telecommunications and Broadcasting in Indigenous Communities requires one year of study and trains indigenous professionals in maintaining indigenous networks from infrastructure to communication delivery. The module boosts the professional development of professionals and ability to contribute to their communities’ socio-economic development and self-sustainability.
A further course in 2021, on Innovative Communication Tools on How to Develop, Manage and Operate an Indigenous Radio Network was offered to 141 indigenous participants over two editions. Countries represented included Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Thirty per cent of participants completed all five units of the course, 40.5% of whom were indigenous women.
ITU and UNESCO are developing activities for rollout at the WSIS Forum 2022 as contributions to the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032).
Working for digital inclusion for older people-raising awareness and building resources
For the first time, ITU has addressed digital inclusion for older people by raising awareness on the topic, leveraging the capacity of ITU members and stakeholders, providing policy and strategy guidelines, and developing resources to support global efforts to overcome this socio-economic challenge.
Resources supporting older persons in the digital world.
- A video tutorial covering ageing in a digital world, with captions in all UN languages.
- Ageing in a Digital World – From Vulnerable to Valuable.
- Self-paced online training: ICTs for Better Ageing and Livelihood in the Digital Landscape. This ITU Academy training is available in English, French, and Spanish and addresses local digital inclusion policies, strategies and good practices.
The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2022 (WTISD 2022) was dedicated to the theme: Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing.
ITU contributing to UN work
- Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older People: Advocacy Brief – highlights the growing public health and policy concern about these issues, made more salient by the COVID-19 pandemic. ITU contributed to the development of this WHO/UN Women brief.
- ITU contributed to the celebration of the UN International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP) in 2021 in the Digital Inclusion For All Ages event jointly organised with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the Office of the Secretary’s-General Envoy on Technology, and the NGO Committee on Ageing.
Working for increased youth engagement
The ITU Youth Strategy ensures the participation of youth in ITU in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The strategy is built on three pillars: creating a community of young leaders, bringing young people together to engage with ITU and members, and fostering participation in ITU activities. More than 40 Youth Task Force members across ITU are coordinating efforts to implement the ITU Youth Strategy.
The initiatives detailed below have been implemented as part of the ITU Youth Strategy.
Generation Connect Initiative
Generation Connect Visionaries Board
The Generation Connect Visionaries Board offers guidance to ITU on its youth-related work. The Board, composed of ITU representatives, eight young leaders, and eight high- level appointees, advises on the Youth Summit and the Youth Strategy.
Road to Addis Series – Digital Inclusion and Youth Events
The ITU Road to Addis series of events has a strong youth component. An event on International Youth Day 2021 saw participation of youth as equal partners alongside the leaders of today’s digital change, while the Partner2Connect Meeting 2021 launched the Partner2Connect Coalition.
Implementation of the I-CoDI Youth Challenge
In 2020, ITU organised the International Centre of Digital Innovation (I-CoDI) Youth Challenge on connecting the unconnected. Winning pitches focused on technology and network development, cybersecurity, digital inclusion, climate change and environment, and capacity building.
Generation Connect Virtual Communities
In 2021, ITU launched on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram the new Generation Connect Virtual communities, inviting youth from the regions to join.
ITU: Current co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development
Since March 2021, ITU has been the co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) with a one-year mandate. The Network increases the effectiveness of UN work in youth development by strengthening collaboration and exchange across UN entities.
Capacity Building on Meaningful Youth Engagement
Training on Meaningful Youth Engagement for UN staff was delivered to ITU staff in 2020; 174 ITU staff attended, including top management, members of the ITU Youth Task Force, and professional and administrative staff. This training was followed in 2020 by two Pitch for Youth workshops, where teams proposed ideas to an ITU jury on youth engagement initiatives.
Collaboration with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth
ITU works with the Office of the Envoy on Youth to align the ITU Youth Strategy with the United Nations Youth Strategy: Youth 2030. ITU has engaged with the UN Youth Envoy in various ways including the co-creation of the Digital Technology session of the #YouthLead Innovation Festival and collaboration on how online efforts are helping improve children’s online safety.
- In 2020, ITU mounted a Youth Engagement Survey to consult on how ITU can best engage. The results of this survey informed the ITU Youth Strategy.
- Kaleidoscope 2018: Machine Learning for a 5G Future was hosted by Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, Santa Fe, Argentina. Young authors, up to 30 years of age, presenting papers received Young Author Recognition certificates.
The WSIS process was initiated by ITU in 1998 and it led the organisation of the Summits in 2003 and 2005 in coordination with the UN system. In line with its mandate and the WSIS outcome documents, ITU continues playing a key lead coordination role in WSIS implementation and follow-up.
The WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. Co-organised by ITU, UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and in close collaboration with all WSIS Action Line Facilitators/Co-Facilitator, the forum has proven to be an efficient mechanism for coordinating multistakeholder implementation activities, exchanging information, creating knowledge, and sharing best practices. It continues to provide assistance in developing multistakeholder and public/private partnerships to advance development goals. The forum provides structured opportunities to network, learn, and participate in multistakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation.
The ITU Contribution to the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes is an annual comprehensive report on ITU activities in the WSIS context from all the three sectors of the organisation (radiocommunication, standardisation, and development sectors) and the General Secretariat on the activities implemented during the respective year. The report provides updates on the tasks carried out by ITU at the operational and policy levels, covering all assigned mandates with reference to the WSIS process.
ITU plays a leading facilitating role in the WSIS implementation process, in collaboration with more than 30 UN agencies in creating an environment for just and equal information and knowledge societies. As per Resolution 1332 (modified 2019) ITU membership resolved to use the WSIS framework as the foundation through which it helps the world to leverage ICTs in achieving the 2030 Agenda, within its mandate and within the allocated resources in the financial plan and biennial budget, noting the WSIS- SDG Matrix developed by UN agencies, This close interlink between the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs and targets can serve as an important basis for work on relevant areas outlined in relevant ongoing processes, for example UN SGs Our Common Agenda and so on.
ITU’s role in the WSIS process, highlighting the varying role along the WSIS Action Lines:
- ITU is the sole facilitator for three different WSIS Action Lines: C2 (Information and communication infrastructure), C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs), and C6 (Enabling environment).
- ITU has also been taking the lead role in facilitating WSIS Action Line C4 (Capacity building)
- ITU contributes to all the remaining WSIS Action Lines that are facilitated by other WSIS stakeholders.
The WSIS-SDG Matrix developed by UN WSIS Action Line Facilitators serves as the mechanism to map, analyse, and coordinate the implementation of WSIS Action Lines, and more specifically, ICTs as enablers and accelerators of the SDGs. This mapping exercise draws direct links between the WSIS Action Lines and the proposed SDGs to continue strengthening the impact of ICTs for sustainable development. Building on the Matrix, the Agenda and outcomes of the WSIS Forum are clearly linked to WSIS Action lines and the SDGs highlighting the impact and importance of ICTs on sustainable development.
The WSIS Stocktaking Process provides a register of activities – including projects, programmes, training initiatives, conferences, websites, guidelines, and toolkits – carried out by governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, and other entities. To that end, in accordance with paragraph 120 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted by WSIS, ITU has been maintaining the WSIS Stocktaking Database since 2004 as a publicly accessible system providing information on ICT-related initiatives and projects with reference to the 11 WSIS action lines (Geneva Plan of Action). The principal role of the WSIS Stocktaking exercise is to leverage the activities of stakeholders working on the implementation of WSIS outcomes and share knowledge and experience of projects by replicating successful models designed to achieve the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The WSIS Prizes contest was developed in response to requests from WSIS stakeholders to create an effective mechanism to evaluate projects and activities that leverage the power of ICTs to advance sustainable development. Since its inception, WSIS Prizes has attracted more than 350,000 stakeholders. Following the outcomes of the UN General Assembly Overall Review on WSIS (Res. A/70/125) that called for a close alignment between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Res. A/70/1), WSIS Prizes continues to serve as the unique global platform to identify and showcase success stories in the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.
The United Nations Group on Information Society (UNGIS) is the UN system’s inter-agency mechanism for advancing policy coherence and programme co-ordination on matters related to ICTs in support of internationally agreed development goals. Established in 2006 after WSIS, its mandate includes promoting collaboration and partnerships among the members of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to contribute to the achievement of the WSIS goals, providing guidance on issues related to inclusive information and knowledge societies, helping maintain issues related to science and technology at the top of the UN Agenda, and mainstreaming ICT for Development in the mandate of CEB members.
UNGIS remains committed and contributed to the alignment of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.
Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development is an international, multistakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators.
ITU also works in close collaboration with the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and in 2022 announced a first-ever set of targets for universal and meaningful digital connectivity to be achieved by 2030.
The universal meaningful connectivity targets were developed as part of the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and aim to provide concrete benchmarks for sustainable, inclusive global progress in specified action areas, such as (1) Universality, (2) Technology, and (3) Affordability. These 15 aspirational targets are meant to help countries and stakeholders prioritise interventions, monitor progress, evaluate policy effectiveness, and galvanise efforts around achieving universal and meaningful connectivity by 2030. They are also meant as a contribution towards the forthcoming Global Digital Compact, as proposed in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report. A first assessment of how the world currently stands in relation to the targets is available on ITU’s website here.
Digital tools and initiatives
- Various platforms used for online meetings: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and ITU’s MyMeetings platform.
- The value of ITU-T’s advanced electronic working environment was highlighted in 2020. Virtual meetings and electronic working methods have come to form the principal platform for ITU standardisation work as part of the global response to COVID-19. ITU members engaged in standard development are making optimal use of ITU’s personalised MyWorkspace platform and associated services and tools (e.g. MyMeetings).
Giga: UNICEF-ITU global initiative
Giga is a UNICEF-ITU global initiative to connect every school to the internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.
Access to broadband internet and digital learning is critical to global efforts to transform education to make it more inclusive, equitable, and effective. Yet right now, the ability to leverage digital resources is far from equitably distributed: 1.3 billion children have no access to the internet at home and only around half of the world’s schools are online. This digital exclusion particularly affects the poorest children, girls, and those with disabilities.
These learners miss out on the resources online, the option to learn remotely, and the opportunity to develop digital skills. In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ITU joined forces to address this new form of inequality by creating Giga, a unique global partnership with the bold ambition to connect every school in the world to the internet by 2030.
What Giga does
- Giga maps schools and their internet access. No one knows how many schools there are in the world (approximately 6-7 million). Giga’s Project Connect map provides a real-time display of access and gaps to guide funders and governments, and to enable accountability. Gigahasmappedover1.1millionschoolsin50countries.
- It creates models for innovative financing. It could cost over $400 billion to connect every unconnected school. Gigaisworking withadiverse array ofpartners to develop solutions for affordable, sustainable connectivity and aims to mobilise $5 billion to catalyse investment in vital connectivity infrastructure.
- Giga supports governments contracting for connectivity. It helps governments to design the regulatory frameworks, technology solutions, and competitive procurement processes needed to get schools online. Giga and its partners have connected over 2.1 million students in over 5,500 schools.
1 – In the work of ITU the issues related to critical internet resources are dealt with as ‘internet public-policy related work’.
2 – In the work of ITU the issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘International standards’.
3 – Within the work of ITU, the work related to the IoT also includes ‘Smart cities’.
4 – Within the work of ITU, child safety online is addressed as ‘Child online protection’.
5 – Within the work of ITU, the issues related to inclusive finance are addressed as ‘Digital Financial Services (DFS)’.
6 – Within the work of ITU the rights of persons with disabilities are addressed as ‘ICT /digital accessibility for all including persons with disabilities’.
7 – Within the work of ITU, gender rights online is addressed as ‘Gender digital divide‘.