ITU celebrated the 50th Anniversary of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) at ITU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland with an award ceremony and an expert panel discussion on how inclusive international standards help countries use technology to improve lives.
Several diplomatic representatives attended the celebration event for WTISD, which has been celebrated annually since 1969, marking the founding of ITU on 17 May 1865 when the first International Telegraph Convention was signed in Paris.
This year’s theme for WTISD is “Bridging the standardization gap,” which refers to efforts to ensure that all the world’s nations have a chance the build and shape international standards for the information and communication technologies (ICTs) that are increasingly central to our daily lives in today’s digital economy.
The importance of ITU standards
From connecting to the internet to listening to radio in your car or watching a video on your TV smartphone – ITU technology standards make it possible.
ITU international standards help to ensure interoperability, open up global markets and spur innovation and growth. They help accelerate progress on each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“Today’s advanced optical, radio and satellite networks are all based on ITU standards. Video will account for over 80% of all Internet traffic by 2020. This video traffic will rely on ITU’s Primetime Emmy winning video-compression standards,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao during welcoming remarks. “International standards provide the technical foundations of global markets. They 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. And this has an important impact on what ITU is doing to connect the world.”
The 2019 theme of WTISD allows ITU Members and other key stakeholders to focus on the opportunities for:
- participation of developing countries in ITU’s standards-making process;
- empowering local experts in the standardization process at the national, regional and international levels; and
- promoting the implementation of international standards in developing countries.
How standards enable digital transformation
The panel discussion on how standards help enable digital transformation focused on the areas of health, financial inclusion and smart cities and communities.
“We’ve all entered a digital world where everything we use … is in some way digital and we’re all connected,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. But she stressed that we need to ensure that these digital technologies don’t have undesirable effects and maximum impact on health systems and people’s health.
She gave the example of Safe Listening standards jointly developed by ITU and WHO to protect people’s hearing. She also mentioned another area where the two organizations have worked together: Artificial Intelligence and Health.
Mr Sergio Mujica, Secretary-General of the International Organization for Standardization highlighted the importance of capacity-building initiatives to bridging the standardization gap.
“Capacity-building is not about charity, capacity-building is about effectiveness,” said Mr Mujica. “We will be as strong as our members.”
Six laureates in the following five categories were awarded for their work to bridge the standardization gap.
Awareness: Recognizing outstanding efforts to raise awareness of the importance of international standardization.The Asia-Pacific Telecommunity APT Wireless Group (AWG) was recognized as one of the most engaged organizations in promoting the importance of standards.
Know-how: Celebrating the accomplishments of ITU delegates in increasing their expertise in international standards development. Mr Lwando Bbuku from the Zambian mission in Geneva was honoured for his role as Co-Chairman – ITU-T Study Group 3.
Community: Highlighting countries hosting considerable numbers of the ITU meetings that bring together the international standardization community. Two member states were awarded: Tunisia and USA.
Engagement: Recognizing countries increasing their participation in ITU standardization work. The People’s Republic of China was recognized as sending the most number of delegates to ITU.
Partnering: Highlighting outstanding financial and in-kind support for ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap programme. The Republic of Korea was recognized as consistent contributor in the past four years.
Closing the gap
ITU’s Bridging the Standardization (BSG) programme aims to facilitate the efficient participation of developing countries in ITU’s standards-making process, to disseminate information about existing standards, and to assist developing countries in the implementation of standards.
This effort is important for many reasons, including ensuring during the process of product and business development that new technologies actually meet the meet the needs of users in developing countries.
“When developing countries do not bring their requirements to the table, international standards may be developed consistent with industry interests or technological innovations, but could neglect to consider the most important aspect: the needs of the consumers of the technology. This can result in equipment, products and services that do not accurately meet the demands of developing markets,” said Mario Maniewicz in a recent Q&A with ITU News about why ITU’s wireless standards are so important in today’s world. “Thus, it is crucial that developing countries express their requirements and needs and ensure that these are taken into account during the development of international standards.”
The BSG programme “helps ITU in achieving its goal of inclusivity, because it helps us – especially developing countries – to participate more actively in ITU work,” said Hilda Mutseyekwa, Director of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe during a recent interview with ITU. “I think that is very important. It also helps us improve how we do our work back home. Most of what we take from ITU, we always make sure we implement back home.”