HQ profile: International Telecommunication Union

Encouraging knowledge and technology transfer
23rd Aug, 2016

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs). Philipp Steiner, Meetings Logistics Coordinator, explains how the organisation operates and the issues they have to deal with.

Interview by Rémi Dévé

Could you please present the International Telecommunication Union?

Philipp SteinerITU was established in 1865 to meet the need for technical standards for international telegraph systems. From the day of the telegraph, through its formative role in telecommunications, and in today’s converged ICT ecosystem, ITU has offered a neutral platform to broker consensus on technical and policy considerations crucial to the development of the global ICT ecosystem.

Our smartphones operate in frequency ranges allocated by ITU. Without ITU’s international standards, we would not be able to make phone calls or access the Internet. And we complement our technical work with capacity-building in the application of advanced ICTs.

ITU is unique among UN agencies in having both public and private-sector membership. Supported by a secretariat based in Geneva, ITU’s membership-driven work is carried out by 193 Member States, as well as over 800 private-sector players and academic and research institutes.

One of your goals is to "connect all the world's people” - how do you achieve this?

A fundamental part of our mission as an organisation is to encourage knowledge and technology transfer between developed and developing countries.As such, we complement our technical work with capacity-building in the application of advanced ICTs within enabling policy and regulatory frameworks.

We also make great effort to increase developing countries’ participation in our technical work, with a prime example found in our “Bridging the Standardisation Gap” (BSG) programme, which seeks to narrow the historical disparity between developed and developing countries’ ability to influence and benefit from international standardisation.

The BSG programme enables the provision of services including fellowships that offer financial assistance to delegates from certain developing countries; a mentorship programme for newcomers to learn from experienced delegates; assistance to developing countries in their establishment of national standardisation secretariats; and hands-on training to delegates from developing countries on effective participation in ITU’s standardisation expert groups.   

Can you describe the challenges you’ve had to face over the last few years?

Cost-cutting among our members has been the biggest hurdle to overcome in recent years as travel budgets have been cut significantly. We have responded by providing state-of-the-art online “remote participation” tools. This not only benefits those who have trouble obtaining travel permission but it is also a valuable service to our developing-country members, helping them to avoid costly airfares and travel expenses.

We see ITU organises many different kinds of events - can you explain?

ITU’s work is membership-driven, with the result that participation in many of our events is a membership privilege. The motivation to become an ITU member generally results from a desire to influence the proceedings of ITU’s decision-making meetings.

We maintain a variety of other platforms to ensure that non-members of ITU have opportunity to influence our work, with an example provided by the “Focus Groups” of ITU’s standardisation arm. Open-to-all, Focus Groups are established to help ITU respond rapidly to emerging standardisation demands. These groups undertake preliminary research into these demands to provide a basis for subsequent standardisation work in our membership-driven “ITU-T Study Groups”.

ITU workshops and symposia are other important supplements to our decision-making meetings. These events are open to all, allowing us to introduce ITU’s work to a wider audience, and, by collecting the views of a broad range of stakeholders, these events assist us in ensuring that ITU’s work addresses the needs of as many stakeholders as possible.

What is the decision process behind the selection of a destination/venue?

ITU organises events all around the world and the selection of the venue is membership-driven. ITU’s government or industry members will make a formal request to ITU offering to host a particular event. In most cases, the ITU secretariat bears responsibility to accept or decline such invitations, however, for major ITU governing conferences, the ITU membership bears this responsibility. One example of an ITU governing conference is the World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly (WTSA), which will be held later this year in Hammamet, Tunisia, from 25 October to 3 November. WTSA meets every four years to decide the strategic direction of ITU standardisation.

What is your most memorable event so far and why?

Each year we organise the “Future Networked Car” symposium within the Geneva International Motor Show, and this always proves to be a very exciting event. The symposium attracts a unique mix of participants to discuss the latest developments at the intersection of automobiles and ICT. Automated (self-driving), connected cars are becoming a reality, and the Geneva Motor Show offers us a high-profile media setting to debate issues around the future of transport.

Can you share your insights about the latest trends in the association community? 

As the UN specialised agency for ICTs, we have the expertise to support our membership’s work with state-of-the-art conference technology. Online remote participation has become a core component of most of our events, and this service is not without risks as we need to have a good handle on quality of experience and cybersecurity to ensure smooth operations. We offer a wide range of other electronic tools to assist the exchange of information between our secretariat and membership, and between members themselves, to ensure that our work keeps pace with the highly dynamic ICT sector.

More information: www.itu.int

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