#263Tech: What is the role of ITU in global telecoms?

International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies is responsible for allocating global radio spectrum, satellite orbits, development of technical standards to ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and striving to improve access to ICTs to undeserved communities worldwide.

An organization based on public-private partnership since its inception, ITU currently has a membership of 193 countries and almost 800 private-sector entities and academic institutions. ITU is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has twelve regional and area offices around the world.

ITU membership represents a cross-section of the global ICT sector, from the world’s largest manufacturers and telecoms carriers to small, innovative players working with new and emerging technologies, along with leading R&D institutions and academia. 

ITU has three main areas of activity organized in ‘Sectors’ which work through conferences and meetings.


Satellites enable phone calls, television programmes, satellite navigation and online maps. Space services are vital in monitoring and transmitting changes in such data as ocean temperature, vegetation patterns and greenhouse gases – helping us predict famines, the path of a hurricane, or how the global climate is changing.

The explosive growth of wireless communications, particularly to provide broadband services, demonstrates the need for global solutions to address the need for additional radio spectrum allocations and harmonized standards to improve inter operability. ITU’s  Radio communication Sector (ITU-R) coordinates this vast and growing range of radio communication services, as well as the international management of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

An increasing number of players need to make use of these limited resources, and participating in ITU-R conferences and study group activities – where important work is done on mobile broadband communications and broadcasting technologies such as Ultra HDTV and 3D TV – is becoming an ever-higher priority for both governments and industry players.


ITU standards (called Recommendations) are fundamental to the operation of today’s ICT networks. Without ITU standards you couldn’t make a telephone call or surf the Internet. For Internet access, transport protocols, voice and video compression, home networking, and myriad other aspects of ICTs, hundreds of ITU standards allow systems to work – locally and globally.

For instance, the Emmy award-winning standard ITU-T H.264 is now one of the most popular standards for video compression. In a typical year, ITU will produce or revise upwards of 150 standards covering everything from core network functionality to next-generation services such as IPTV. If your product or service requires any kind of international buy-in, you need to be part of the standardization discussions in ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) .


ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) has a programme to offer you – whether you are interested in entering or expanding your presence in emerging markets, demonstrating global ICT leadership, learning how to put good policy into practice, or pursuing your mandate for corporate social responsibility. In an increasingly networked world, expanding access to ICTs globally is in everybody’s interest. ITU champions a number of major initiatives which encompass ITU’s internationally-accorded mandate to ‘bridge the digital divide’, such as its ITU Connect events or Connect a School, Connect a Community. ITU also regularly publishes the industry’s most comprehensive and reliable ICT statistics.

Developing skills and knowledge
‘Connecting the unconnected’ is not just a question of putting infrastructure in place. Infrastructure has to be supported by effective regulatory strategies and policies and an understanding of future trends: technical, social and economic. ITU brings partners together to discuss these issues, share insights and best practice, and lay the groundwork for long-term industry growth. ITU publishes regular reports highlighting important developments and also has its own ITU Academy programme which trains technicians, regulators, administrators and local communities in how best to use the power of ICTs.

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