In an interview with Telecom Review, Chaesub Lee, Director of Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU, talked about ITU standardization and the latest achievements.
Could you give us an introduction to ITU and its work?
ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ICTs. We are given life by a membership of 193 Member States and over 700 private-sector entities and 120 academic and research institutes. Our membership-driven work is supported by a secretariat based in Geneva.
ITU was established in 1865 to meet the need for international standards for telegraph systems. From the day of the telegraph, through our formative role in telecommunications, and in today's converged ICT ecosystem, ITU has offered a neutral platform to broker consensus on policy and technical questions of common global concern.
ITU is responsible for the global coordination of satellite orbits and radiofrequency allocations. We develop international standards that underpin the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, services and devices. And we complement this technical work with capacity building in the application of advanced ICTs.
How are ITU standards conceived and agreed? Is an intergovernmental agency such as ITU the right place to set standards to be followed by the fast-paced ICT sector?
ITU is unique among UN agencies in that, in addition to governments, our membership also includes leading private-sector players and academic and research institutes. Our private-sector members include the telecommunications carriers that build and operate the infrastructure that forms the backbone of the global ICT ecosystem. And in recent years we have welcomed digital service providers such as Alibaba, Netflix, Facebook and Google as new ITU members.
Our technical standardization work is driven predominantly by our private-sector members. Standardization experts representing leading private-sector players come together on the ITU platform to develop the international standards demanded by the market as common platforms for growth and innovation.
Our contribution-led standardization process is beholden to longstanding commitment to consensus-based decision-making. Standardization work on a particular subject is initiated in response to contributions from ITU members if the membership reaches consensus on the inclusion of that subject in ITU-T's work plan. Similarly, the standards developed as a result are only approved when ITU's membership reaches consensus on their composition.
ITU standards are voluntary technical standards - conformance to our standards is not mandatory unless such conformance is mandated by regulation. Despite their implementation being voluntary, the approval of ITU standards by consensus ensures the buy-in of all stakeholders, which increases the likelihood of these standards which will be implemented worldwide.
What is the relevance of ITU standards to modern communications systems?
There are over 4000 standards in use in modern ICT infrastructure. Year 2016 alone has seen the delivery of nearly 400 ITU standards.
Estimates suggest that 95 percent of international traffic runs over fiber optic infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. ITU standards for digital certificates and the broader public-key infrastructure were critical to the rise of e-commerce, and our standards remain essential to the high-speed exchange of financial information. Our standards also underpinned the critical access technologies of the internet, at first with V-series modems and now via broadband DSL and FTTH.
Many estimates suggest that video accounts for over 60 percent of internet traffic, a figure expected to rise to over 80 percent by 2018. The Primetime Emmy award-winning ITU H.264 'Advanced Video Coding' remains the most deployed video codec worldwide. Its successor, ITU H.265 'High Efficiency Video Coding', will help ease the burden on global networks, increasingly geared towards the massive exchange of video traffic.
Take for example your smartphone, ITU standards are crucial to the long-haul fiber optic transport networks that form the backbone of the global ICT ecosystem; we provide phone numbers, signaling protocols and codecs for voice and video and we also manage the radio spectrum in which the smartphone operates.
What is the main value proposition of ITU standardization? In other words, what attracts companies to develop standards on the ITU platform?
The principles underlying the ITU standardization process ensure that all voices are heard, that our standards efforts do not favor particular commercial interests and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse set of stakeholders that comprise the ITU membership. This inclusivity of ITU's standardization platform - supported by our Bridging the Standardization Gap program - assists in offering all the world's countries equal opportunity to benefit from the ICT advances changing our world.
Joining ITU offers companies the opportunity to work together with technical experts representing stakeholders from both developed and developing countries, setting standards that help to build global markets.
You mention a program to "bridge the standardization gap". What are the aims of that program?
ITU standardization has a development dimension unmatched by other standards bodies. Our Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) program is our vehicle to improve the capacity of developing countries to participate in the development and implementation of international ICT standards. The ultimate goal of our BSG program is to support national standardization experts in meeting their potential to become international standardization experts.
Participation in ITU standardization work helps countries to ensure that their priorities are addressed by ITU standards. Participation also results in expert knowledge of our standards, knowledge of great value to developing countries in their work to implement ITU standards effectively.
It is crucial that ITU standardization encourages knowledge and technology transfer. Newcomers to ITU learn from experienced delegates how to participate in international standardization most effectively. We support this sharing of knowledge by offering training courses in effective participation in the ITU standards-development process. These courses aim to improve delegates' capacity to engage in debate using well-constructed arguments, helping them to build the consensus essential to the development and approval of ITU standards.
What are some of the latest achievements of ITU standardization?
ITU-T is a renowned centre of excellence in standardization for transport and access systems and multimedia.
ITU members recently concluded a three-year process to enable optical transport at rates higher than 100 Gbit/s, meeting industry demand for increased capacity in metro and long-haul transport networks to support the unceasing growth of video and data traffic.
We recently achieved an industry first in broadband access with the completion of for 40-Gigabit fibre to the home (FTTH), an achievement coming in parallel with the release of a new standard for 10 Gigabit symmetric FTTH. ITU's suite of access solutions also includes G.fast, an ITU broadband standard that allows delivery of up to 1 Gbit/s over the traditional telephone lines that still make up a substantial proportion of so-called "last-mile" networks.
ITU H.265 'High Efficiency Video Coding' - the successor to the Primetime Emmy award-winning ITU H.264 'Advanced Video Coding', which we see at play in almost all HDTV offerings - offers double the compression power of H.264 provide the platform for the next decade of innovation in video.
A new ITU standard defining the requirements for 4G mobile high quality voice communications has joined ITU's portfolio of standards to assist operators in their work to offer services of the quality necessary to attract and retain customers in today's competitive business environment.
Smart cities are a key application area for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and we recently released a set of standardized key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. ITU is engaged in a two-year pilot project with various cities around the world to implement these indicators, which will ensure that any future refinement of these indicators is undertaken on the basis of cities' experiences with their implementation.
We have also released a key standard for personal health systems, supporting the development of medical-grade e-health devices that can help the prevention and improved management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
How has so-called 'convergence' impacted ITU's standardization work?
The distinction between different segments of the ICT industry is not nearly as clear as it once was, and the sliver of difference that remains is dissipating fast. ICT also plays a key role in driving the convergence of industry sectors, and ITU continues to play a central role in enabling this telecom-based convergence.
ITU led several key areas of convergence within the telecom domain, such as data-voice convergence with next-generation networks (NGN), fixed-mobile convergence and telecom-broadcasting convergence with Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).
With respect to the convergence of industry sectors, the ICT sector has gained a diverse range of new stakeholders as other industry sectors continue to scale-up their use of ICTs as "enabling technologies". ITU standardization work is mirroring these bi-directional movements. The wide array of industry sectors now in demand of ICT standards continues to draw great value from ITU. For example, the scope of ITU standardization has expanded to include the development of ICT standards to support e-health, smart grid, smart water management, intelligent transport systems and smart city.
Since your election as TSB director, in what way have you contributed to enhancing the value of ITU standardization?
I have encouraged our members to be bold in using the ITU platform to launch new standardization work and to strengthen ITU's efforts to bridge the standardization gap between developed and developing countries. I am pleased to say that our members have done exactly that.
ITU members are engaged in a new standardization effort to define the principles of a trusted ICT environment, one that will be integral to the achievement of our priorities in the spheres of 5G, IoT and smart cities.
In 2015, our members established a new standardization expert group - ITU-T Study Group 20 - to develop standards for IoT and smart cities. The formation of the new ITU-T Study Group 20 has contributed to the consolidation of over 10 years of ITU activity in IoT standardization and the group's work targeted towards smart cities will provide valuable stimulus to this key IoT application area.
Our Focus Group on network aspects of IMT-2020 (5G) has undertaken a preliminary study into the wireline networking innovations required to support the ambitious performance targets of 5G systems. This group has undertaken in-depth studies into areas such as network 'softwarization' and slicing, emerging networking technologies, mobile backhaul and fronthaul, and end-to-end quality of service (QoS).
In the framework of the WTSA, what plans are you working on achieving? Why is this event of a great importance for the telecoms industry?
The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is held every four years for ITU members to refine the strategic direction of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T). At WTSA-16 in Hammamet, Tunisia, from 25 October to 3 November, ITU members will review ITU-T's structure, working methods and mechanisms for collaboration with other standards bodies, SMEs and open-source communities, and the many vertical sectors applying ICTs as enabling technologies.
WTSA-16 is an opportunity to ensure that ITU standardization remains well positioned to support the development of the information society. The decisions of the Assembly will ensure that ITU-T provides its members with a standardization toolkit optimized to assist government, industry and academia in achieving their ambitions for year 2020 and beyond.
In this sense, the task of WTSA is to reshape ITU's standardization platform in line with the evolving demands of the telecommunications and ICT market, demands including the need to support technological and industrial convergence. WTSA is the best platform to achieve this, with its agreements incorporating the views of a globally representative set of stakeholders.
What kind of opportunities does the WTSA provide to experts in the ICT sector?
Member States' delegations to WTSA include representatives of industry, academia and civil society, ensuring that delegations include technical experts well-versed in the latest movements of ITU standardization. WTSA offers standardization experts the opportunity to campaign for their priorities to be reflected by the international standardization agenda, giving them a voice in ensuring that the ITU standardization platform continues to meet their needs.
When it comes to the 2020 plan, what are the future measures that you will be taking in the upcoming four years?
The years approaching 2020 will be a pivotal period in the development of the global ICT ecosystem. We will see 5G systems beginning to take shape, and investments in long-lived urban infrastructure will incorporate investments in ICTs to build IoT-enabled smart cities. ITU is supporting the ICT community in its work to create a post-2020 environment where we will all have access to affordable, reliable communications; where highly-reliable ICTs will be core to innovation in all industry sectors.
In the approach to 2020, ITU standardization will be guided by three interdependent priorities. We will support 5G systems with the necessary innovations in network infrastructure. We will work to ensure that IoT technologies and applications meet their full potential, particularly in the context of smart cities. And we will define the principles of a trusted ICT environment and the technical mechanisms required to achieve it.
How can you describe the bureau's role in solving pending issues in the ICT sector, especially those related to the challenges of the 5G and the use of big data in smart cities?
When speaking of 5G, we are speaking of a huge leap beyond 4G. Wireless communication in the 5G era should match the speed and reliability achieved by fiber-optic cables. The application fields of 5G technologies, in addition to voice and video, range from industrial robotics to automated driving, remote medical surgery, virtual reality and much more.
Recognizing that today's network architectures simply cannot support the envisaged capabilities of 5G systems, ITU members established the ITU-T Focus Group on network aspects of IMT-2020 to undertake a preliminary study into the wireline networking innovations required to enable the 5G era. The ITU-T standardization work to build on the findings of this Focus Group will offer valuable support to the ICT industry in ensuring that wireline and wireless elements of 5G systems work in harmony.
With respect to Big Data in smart cities, our increasing ability to capture and analyze data generated by smart city systems will help us to identify where and how innovation can contribute to greater efficiency and sustainability. However, this will demand an integrated data ecosystem.
We cannot allow data "silos" to emerge in different sectors. For this reason, one of the priorities in ITU standardization work for IoT is to develop mechanisms for smart city operation that ensure the interoperability of IoT applications and datasets employed by various vertical sectors.
In light of the current debate on 5G standards, can you tell us some details about the 5G frequency allocation in different countries?
Looking towards 2020, one of the highest profile areas of ITU work is our standardization of 5G systems.
In 2012, ITU established a program on "International Mobile Telecommunications for 2020 and beyond (IMT-2020)", providing the framework for 5G research and development worldwide.
Our members have defined the framework and overall objectives of this standardization process, as well as the roadmap to guide this process to its conclusion by 2020.
ITU's Radiocommunication Sector, ITU-R, is coordinating the international standardization and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development. ITU-R is applying the same process used to coordinate the standardization of IMT-2000 (3G) and IMT-Advanced (4G) systems, a process with a proven track-record of success and reliability befitting its importance.
ITU's Standardization Sector, ITU-T, will play a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of the wireline elements of 5G networks, using the launching pad provided by the ITU-T Focus Group on network aspects of IMT-2020.