The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a UN specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) with a membership of 193 member states and over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. In general terms, the ITU focuses on three main areas of activity: Radiocommunications (harmonisation of the global radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits) through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R); standardisation (development of international technical standards for the interconnection and interoperability of networks, devices, and services) through the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and development (working on, among a range of policy areas, improving secure access to ICTs in underserved communities worldwide) through the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D). The General Secretariat manages the intersectoral co-ordination functions, strategic planning, and corporate functions, as well as the administrative and financial aspects of the ITU’s activities. The ITU is also the organiser of the ITU Telecom events, leading tech events convening governments, major corporates, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to debate and share knowledge on key issues of the digital age, showcase innovation in exhibitions, and network and reward progress through an awards programme.
The ITU co-ordinates and organises the annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum (www.wsis.org.forum) that serves as a platform for stakeholders to co-ordinate, partner, and share the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Some of the ITU’s key areas of action include: radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, fixed, mobile, and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including next generation networks and future networks), and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. The ITU’s work supports: emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), 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
- Telecommunications infrastructure
Information and communication infrastructure development is one of the ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired 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 telecommunication networks in rural areas.
Through the IITU-R, the 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 ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities.
The international standards developed by the ITU-T enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide.
The ITU-D establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.
In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 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.
The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on ’Network and Digital Infrastructure’ is: ‘Reliable Connectivity to Everyone’.
ITU-D Study Group 1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunication 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 policies and methods of determining the costs of services related to national telecommunication/ICT networks’; Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; and Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights: Laws, regulation, economic bases, consumer networks’.
The 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. The ITU-R study groups together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders are finalising the development of 5G standards. The Detailed specifications of the radio interfaces of IMT-2020 are expected to be completed by 2020.
The activities in the field 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 that they operate without interference.
The upcoming Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF-21) will discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. 5G is one of the themes for consideration.
The ITU-R is co-ordinating international standardisation and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development.
The 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 machine learning 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).
The ITU-R manages the detailed co-ordination and recording procedures for space systems and earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and to carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations for inclusion in the formal co-ordination procedures or recording in the Master International Frequency Register.
The ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by locating suitable orbital slots.
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.
To this end, during the last World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), the ITU established regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSOs, including mega-constellations in low Earth orbit.
Regarding climate change, satellite data is today 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.
The ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs as enabling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offerings. 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’s mandate. In order to mitigate the impact of disasters, 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 timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives.
The ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:
1. Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs), which include national policies and procedures as well as governance to support and enable the continued use of reliable and resilient ICT networks, services, and platforms for disaster management and risk reduction.
2. Development of tabletop simulation exercises to help build capacity at a national level to improve the speed, quality, and effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response, allowing stakeholders to test and refine emergency telecommunication plans, policies and procedures, and to verify whether ICT networks, redundant telecommunications capacities, personnel, as well as other telecommunication systems are in place and ready to be used for disaster response.
3. Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP), which monitor the underlying hazards and exchange emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of ICT networks, allowing a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, providing communities at risk with crucial information to take urgent actions to save their lives and livelihoods.
4. Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management to help countries be better prepared for disaster response at a time when the frequency, intensity, and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise worldwide.
The ITU’s activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate the prediction, detection, and alerting through the co-ordinated 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 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 protections against environmental factors, focusing 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 fibres of severed fibre-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ – emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.
The 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 on SMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012.
In the ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/information and communication technology projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. The 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 damages to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, the ITU and the host country embark on the resuscitation of the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.
- Report: Disruptive technologies and their use in disaster risk reduction and management. (2019)
- The Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19), took place on 6-8 March 2019, Balaclava, Mauritius.
- National Emergency Telecommunication Plans
- Emergency Telecommunication Simulation Exercises
- Study Question 5/2: Utilizing telecommunications/ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management (2014-2017)
The 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.
- Artificial intelligence
The 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 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.
The ITU organises the annual AI for Good Global Summit, which aims to connect innovators in the field of AI with public and private sector decision-makers to develop AI solutions that could help in achieving the SDGs.
The ITU has launched a global AI repository to identify AI related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks, and organisations that can accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Open ITU platforms advancing various aspects of AI and machine learning include:
- The ITU Focus Group on ‘Machine Learning for Future Networks including 5G’, which is defining the requirements of machine learning as they relate to interfaces, protocols, algorithms, data formats, and network architectures. The ITU has launched the ITU AI/ML in 5G Challenge: A competition for which hundreds of professionals and students from over 50 countries have signed up.
- The ITU Focus Group on ‘Environmental Efficiency for AI and other Emerging Technologies’ will benchmark best practices and describe pathways towards a standardised framework for assessing the environmental aspects of adopting emerging technologies.
- The ITU Focus Group on ‘AI for Health’, driven in close collaboration by the ITU and the World Health Organization (WHO), is working towards the establishment of a framework and associated processes for the performance benchmarking of ‘AI for Health’ solutions.
- The ITU Focus Group on ‘AI for Autonomous and Assisted Driving’ is working towards the establishment of international standards to monitor and assess the behavioural performance of the AI ‘drivers’ in control of automated vehicles.
- The new Global Initiative on ‘AI and Data Commons’, established in January 2020, aims to support AI for Good projects in achieving global scale. The initiative will offer assemblies of resources to launch new AI projects aligned with the SDGs, and scale them up quickly.
The ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunication 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 Study Groups. Several areas under ITU-D Study Groups 1 and 2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.
- Critical internet resources
Over the years, the 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)). The ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role in regard to 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-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.
The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 - Information and communication infrastructure.
- Digital standards
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 the 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 machine learning.
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 ITU standardisation 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 Study Groups. Over 4000 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 study groups, covering the ITU-T study groups 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 the ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the ITU-T Study Groups (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.
- Internet of things
The ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.
The ITU also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally within the United for Smart Sustainable Cities 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 100 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by the ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.
U4SSC prizes learning from experience and sharing lessons learnt. The new U4SSC implementation programme supports the new partnerships driving smart city projects. As the implementation arm of U4SSC, the programme aims to enact the lessons learned in U4SSC’s work.
The range of application 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, are required to provide access to the network.
Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, the 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 the ITU-R, as follows:
- harmonisation of frequency ranges, 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 Study Group 2 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 identifying the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, in order to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.
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.
The ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the ITU Focus Group on Application of Distributed Ledger Technology, 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 Focus Group studied high-potential DLT use cases and DLT platforms said to meet the requirements of such use cases. These studies guided the Focus 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 of ITU and Stanford University to continue the work of an ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency. 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.
- Cloud computing
ITU standards provide the requirements and functional architectures of the cloud ecosystem, covering inter- and intra-cloud computing and technologies supporting ‘XaaS’ (X as a Service). 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 Study Group 1 Question 3/1 focuses on analysis of factors influencing effective access to support cloud computing, as well strategies, policies, and infrastructure investments to foster the emergence of a cloud-computing ecosystem in developing countries, among others.
- Emerging technologies
The ITU’s range of work on emerging technologies in fields such as AI, 5G, IoT, quantum information technologies, and others have been covered in various other sections.
The theme of the upcoming Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF) is ‘Policies for Mobilizing New and Emerging Telecommunications/ICTs for Sustainable Development'. The WTPF will discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. Themes for consideration include AI, the IoT, 5G, big data, OTTs, and more. In this regard, the upcoming WTPF will focus on opportunities, challenges, and policies to foster sustainable development.
- Network security
The ITU acts as facilitator of the WSIS Action Line C5 - Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs. In 2007, 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.
The ITU develops international standards to build confidence and security in the use of ICTs. Topics of growing significance to this work include security aspects of digital financial services, intelligent transport systems, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and quantum information technologies.
In 2008, the 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 GCA is currently undergoing a review process to develop guidelines for better utilisation of the framework.
The ITU serves a neutral and global platform for dialogue around policy actions in the interests of cybersecurity.
The 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 the ITU-R’s establishment of security principles for 3G and 4G networks, the ITU also assists 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: The 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 co-ordinated 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 cyber-threats and incidents reliably. The ITU assists member states in establishing and enhancing National Computer Incident Response Teams (CIRTs). In response to the fast-evolving technologies and manifestation of related threats, incident response must be updated and improved continuously.
Building human capacity: The ITU conducts regional and national cyber drills, assisting member states in improving cybersecurity readiness, protection, and incident response capabilities of countries at regional and national level, and to strengthen international cooperation among ITU member states against cyber-threats and cyber-attacks. To date, the ITU has conducted cyber drills involving over 100 countries.
In its efforts on cybersecurity, the ITU works closely with partners from international organisations, the private sector, and academia, strengthened by MoUs with a range of organisations such as UNODC, World Bank, Interpol, WEF, and several others.
- Child safety online
As part of its Global Cybersecurity Agenda, the ITU launched the Child Online Protection Initiative in 2008, aimed to create an international collaborative network and promote 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 co-operation.
Approaching child online safety with a holistic child rights based approach, the initiative has recently added to their key objectives the participation of children into 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, the 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 guides the organisation’s activities in the area of child safety online.
The 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, GPEVAC, UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO and World Childhood Foundation USA.
The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5 - Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs.
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 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. The 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 annual Measuring the Information Society reports. The ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda envisions specific targets related to Internet access; for instance: By 2023, 65% of households worldwide with access to the Internet; by 2023, 70% of individuals worldwide with access to the Internet; and by 2023, Internet access should be 25% more affordable.
Access in treated in most enabling policy questions of ITU-D Study Group 1 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 and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services,’
- Question 4/1 on ‘Economic policies and methods of determining the costs of services related to national telecommunication/ICT networks,’
- Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas,’ and
- Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights: Laws, regulation, economic bases, consumer networks.’
The ITU is the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 - Information and communication infrastructure.
- Capacity development
The 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 has also launched the ITU Academy, which provides a wide range of general and specialised courses on various aspects related to ICTs. Such courses can be delivered online, face-to-face, or in a blended manner, and they span across a wide variety of topics, from technologies and services, to policies and regulations. The ITU also develops digital skills at basic and intermediate level to citizens through its Digital Transformation Centre Initiative.
The inclusivity of the ITU standardisation platform is supported by the ITU's Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) programme as well as regional groups within ITU-T study groups. The ‘BSG Hands-On Study Group 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.
- Addressing emerging technology trends – such as big data, AI, etc – by collecting and sharing of best practices.
The 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, and 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 Goal 4 of the Connect 2030 agenda.
The 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 countries’ ecosystem status and allowing them to identify and fill the gaps using the ITU’s tools and expertise.
- Sustainable development
The ITU has several activities dedicated to supporting the achievement of the SDGs. Its focus is on SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), and in particular target 9.c that is aimed to increase access to ICTs and provide universal and affordable access to the Internet. Some other SDGs addressed by the ITU include: SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy); SDG 13 (climate action) through its programmes focused on the use of ICTs to address climate change; and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) through its activities supporting the development of smart sustainable cities. The ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda is specifically dedicated to leveraging telecommunications/ICTs, including broadband, for sustainable development. The agenda is built around four goals: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership. In addition, the ITU-D works on fostering international co-operation on telecommunication 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 study groups.
The ITUs 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
The ITU has built a substantial programme of work in support of digital financial inclusion. ITU standards for digital finance address ‘Security, Infrastructure and Trust’. They provide for high quality of service and user experience, and they safeguard security to build trust in digital finance.
The 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, an ongoing three-year programme to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial inclusion in developing countries led by the ITU, the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, and with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The ITU and Stanford University recently launched the Digital Currency Global Initiative to continue the work of the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency. The Digital Currency Global Initiative 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. The initiative will share case studies of digital currency applications, benchmark best practices, and develop specifications to inform ITU standards.
The 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%.
The ITU-D has been mandated to assist developing countries in undertaking 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 sector to stimulate co-ordinated actions towards a circular economy model. The ITU-D also co-founded the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership to improve and collect worldwide statistics on e-waste. ITU-D and ITU-T study groups also explore issues related to ICTs and the environment. The ITU develops international standards enabling the reduction of ICT lifecycle environment impacts and guiding the development of frameworks for sustainable e-waste management.
- Rights of persons with disabilities
The ITU works to ensure that ICT are accessible to all people including those living with disabilities and those with specific needs as stated in the ITU’s mandate and as granted by the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference through Resolution 175 (Rev. Dubai, 2018) on ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs.
The Development Bureau (ITU-D), within its work in digital inclusion, pays particular attention to ICT/digital accessibility to enable digital inclusion and to ensure inclusive communication for all people, regardless of their gender, age, ability, or location.
The importance of making technology accessibility is therefore addressed by ITU-D, ITU-T, and ITU-R. The ITU works together with ITU member states and all involved stakeholders through specific Study Groups to address and mainstream accessibility of ICTs in national and regional policies and strategies, and develop appropriate standards and radio frequencies thus ensuring that technology empowers all people equally and equitably. The ITU also develops and makes available products and resources including toolkits, reports, assessments, guidelines, and training, to leverage knowledge and provide support to ITU members in implementing ICT accessibility in their respective countries and regions and in developing digital inclusive societies globally.
ITU-D Study Group 1 Question 7/1 focuses on sharing good practices on implementing national ICT accessibility policies, legal frameworks, directives, guidelines, strategies, and technological solutions to improve the accessibility, compatibility, and usability of telecommunication/ICT services and the use of accessible telecommunications/ICTs to promote the employment of persons with disabilities in order to empower all stakeholders in creating an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities worldwide.
Accessibility issues are also tackled in the context of the standardisation work carried out by ITU-T study groups, as well as of studies and reports produced by the organisation.
- Gender rights online
The ITU is involved in activities aimed at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through ICTs.
Together with UN Women, UNU, GSMA, and ITC, the 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, the 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 Girls Can Code Initiative (GCCI) was started in Africa in collaboration with UN Women and the African Union Commission with the aim to train and empower girls and young women aged 17 to 20 years old across Africa to become computer programmers, creators, and designers. The GCCI has been also launched in the Americas region with a focus on equipping girls with coding skills and generating interest in the pursuit of ICT careers.
Other activities such as the Women in Technology Challenge and the EQUALS Women in Tech Network led by the ITU are targeted at advancing women’s engagement with ICTs for social and economic development.
The ITU WRC-19 also adopted a declaration that promotes gender equality, equity, and parity in the work of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector.
The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C4 - Capacity building.
- Various platforms used for online meetings: Interprefy (e.g. ITU Council), Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, 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 the ITU’s personalised MyWorkspace platform and associated services and tools (e.g. MyMeetings).
World Summit on the Information Society Process and its alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
The WSIS was initiated by the ITU in 1998 and the ITU led the organisation of the Summits in 2003 and 2005 in co-ordination with the UN system. In line with its mandate and the WSIS outcome documents, the ITU continues playing a key lead co-ordination role in WSIS implementation and follow-up (WSIS Forum).
The WSIS Forum represents the world's largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. The WSIS Forum, co-organised by the ITU, UNESCO, UNDP, and UNCTAD, and in close collaboration with all WSIS Action Line Facilitators/Co-Facilitators, has proven to be an efficient mechanism for the co-ordination of multistakeholder implementation activities, information exchange, creation of knowledge, and sharing of best practices, and continues to provide assistance in developing multistakeholder and public/private partnerships to advance development goals. This Forum provides structured opportunities to network, learn, and participate in multistakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation (WSIS Action Lines and SDG Matrix)
The WSIS-SDG Matrix developed by UN WSIS Action Line Facilitators serves as the mechanism to map, analyse, and co-ordinate the implementation of WSIS Action Lines, and more specifically, ICTs as enablers and accelerators of the SDGs. This mapping exercise draws direct linkages of the WSIS Action Lines with 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.
Since 2015 efforts have been made to align the WSIS Process with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (ITU Contribution to the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes)
The ITU Contribution to the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes is an annual comprehensive report on the ITU activities in context of WSIS from all the three sectors of the organisation (standardization, radiocommunication, and the development sectors) and the General Secretariat on the activities implemented during the respective year. The report provides updates on the tasks carried out by the ITU at the operational and policy levels, covering all assigned mandates with reference to the WSIS Process (ITU WSIS Action Lines Roadmaps)
The ITU is the lead facilitator of Action Lines C2 (ICT Infrastructure), C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs), and C6 (Enabling Environment), and the co-facilitator of several other action lines (C1, C3, C4, C7, C8, C9, and C11).The ITU WSIS Action Line Roadmaps for C2, C5, and C6 are detailed plans to guide progress towards achieving the WSIS implementation goals. The Roadmaps serve as a reference and guiding tool on tje ITU’s efforts on WSIS Action Lines as facilitator and implementer and they provide a broad vision and detailed overview of the activities planned within the mandate of the ITU. Showing clear linkages with the SDGs, they include timeframes, expected results, as well as relevant ITU strategic goals and resolutions (WSIS Stocktaking)
The WSIS Stocktaking process provides a register of activities – including projects, programs, training initiatives, conferences, websites, guidelines, toolkits, etc. – 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, the 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 (WSIS Prizes)
The WSIS Prizes contest was developed in response to requests from the 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 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 (United Nations Group on Information Society (UNGIS)
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 the 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).
The Partnership is an international, multistakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators.