International Electrotechnical Commission

Acronym: IEC

Address: Rue de Varembé 3, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://iec.ch

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Founded in 1906, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is the world’s leading organisation for the development of international standards for all electrical and electronic technologies. The IEC’s standardisation work is advanced by nearly 20 000 experts from government, industry, commerce, research, academia, and other stakeholder groups.

The IEC is one of three global sister organisations (in addition to the ISO and ITU) that develop international standards.

Digital Activities

The IEC works to ensure that its activities have a global reach in order to meet all the challenges of digital transformation worldwide. The organisation covers an array of digital policy issues illustrated below.

Digital policy issues

Digital standards 

 The IEC carries out standardisation and conformity assessment activities covering a vast array of technologies. These range from smart cities, grids, automation, and energy to electromagnetic compatibility between devices, digital system interfaces and protocols, and fibre optics and cables. Other areas covered by the IEC include multimedia home systems and applications for end-user networks, multimedia e-publishing and e-book technologies, information and communication technologies (ICTs), wearable electronic devices and technologies, cards and personal identification, programming languages, cloud computing and distributed platforms, the Internet of Things, and information technology (IT) for learning, education, and training.

Over the past 30 years, the IEC and ISO Joint Technical Committee (JTC 1) have been developing IT standards for global markets, meeting business and user requirements. This work addresses various aspects including the design and development of IT systems and tools; interoperability, performance, and quality of IT products and systems; harmonised IT vocabulary; and security of IT systems and information. Some of the areas that JTC 1 covers include:

  • Cards and security devices for personal identification
  • Computer graphics, image processing, and environmental data representation
  • Coding of audio, picture, multimedia, and hypermedia information
  • Automatic identification and data capture techniques
  • Data management and interchange
  • IT for learning, education, and training
  • Biometrics
  • Trustworthiness
  • Digital twins
  • Quantum computing
  • 3D printing
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality-based ICT
  • Autonomous and data-rich vehicles
Internet of things 
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the main technology sectors covered by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) in its standardisation activities. Several technical committees (some of which are joint groups with the ISO – International Organization for Standardization) focus on various aspects of the Internet of Things. Examples include: standardisation in the area of IoT and related technologies, including sensor networks and wearable technologies; smart cities; smart grid (which involve the use of technology for optimal electricity delivery); and smart energy. In addition to developing standards, the IEC also publishes white papers, roadmaps with recommendations, and other resources on IoT-related issues. IECEE and IECQ, two of the four IEC Systems for Conformity Assessment, verify that digital devices/systems perform as intended.
Artificial intelligence 
Another important technology sector tackled by the IEC is artificial intelligence (AI). Standardisation activities in the area of AI are mostly covered by a joint IEC and ISO technical committee (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42). The committee has recently published a new technical report that aims, among others, to assist the standards community in identifying specific AI standardisation gaps. SC 42 has set up several groups that cover specific aspects of AI, such as computational approaches and characteristics of AI systems, trustworthiness, use cases and applications of AI systems, to name a few.

The IEC also publishes white papers, recommendations and other resources on AI-related topics.

Cloud computing 
 Cloud computing is an enabling technology, based on the principles of shared devices, network access and shared data storage.

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38 has produced international standards with cloud computing terms and definitions and reference architecture. Other work includes a standard which establishes a set of common cloud service building blocks, including terms and offerings, that can be used to create service level agreements (SLAs), which also covers the requirements for the security and privacy aspects of cloud service level agreements.

SC 38 has produced a standard for data taxonomy, which identifies the categories of data that flow across the cloud service customer devices and cloud services and how the data should be handled.

Network security 
In the area of cybersecurity, IEC works with ISO in their joint technical committee to develop the ISO/IEC 27000 family of standards. In addition, the IEC operates globally standardized systems for testing and certification (conformity assessment) to ensure that standards are properly applied in real-world technical systems and that results from anywhere in the world can be compared. To this end, IECQ (IEC Quality Assessment System For Electronic Component) provides an approved process scheme for ISO/IEC 27001. The IECEE (IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components) Industrial Cybersecurity Programme focuses on cybersecurity in the industrial automation sector.
Critical infrastructure 
The IEC develops horizontal standards, such as the IEC 62443, for operational technology in industrial and critical infrastructure that includes power utilities, water management systems, healthcare and transport systems. These standards are technology independent and can be applied across many technical areas. On the other hand, several technical committees and subcommittees develop international standards to protect specific domains and critical infrastructure assets (vertical standards).

 

Sustainable development 
 The IEC international standards and conformity assessment systems contribute to the realisation of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They provide the foundation allowing all countries and industries to adopt or build sustainable technologies, apply best practice, and form the basis for innovation as well as quality and risk management.

 

Capacity development 
The IEC Academy Platform aims to support IEC community members through formal learning and collaboration opportunities. The IEC offers a series of online courses and webinars that provide an in-depth understanding of IEC’s main activities.

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • IEC technical committees have held online/remote meetings for many years, especially for focussed discussions on individual topics. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic the breadth of technical online meetings has been further expanded to ensure optimal continuation of standardization and conformity assessment activities. Most face-to-face management board and governance meetings have been converted to online meetings during COVID-19. In support of the successful organization of online meetings, the IEC has published a virtual meeting guide.

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

  • Many IEC meetings are held outside of IEC CO headquarters or online or in a hybrid format. The tools for that purpose include webinars, podcasts, online presentations and various teleconferencing facilities. In the future, augmented reality technology or digital twin approaches may also be considered to provide the benefits of face-to-face meetings. While face-to-face meetings have been the rule to date, some IEC Board meetings have also been held virtually to some extent already in the past, with documents being shared in advance on proprietary online platforms and collaboration taking place live online.

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • In the IEC, nearly all decision-making processes have been taking place virtually since many years, with voting/decisions being dispatched electronically, including collaboration and commenting via a dedicated electronic platform.

International Organization for Standardization

Acronym: ISO

Address: Chem. de Blandonnet 8, 1214 Vernier, Switzerland

Website: https://iso.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organisation composed of 165 national standard-setting bodies that are either part of governmental institutions or mandated by their respective governments. Each national standard-setting body therefore represents a member state.

After receiving a request from a consumer group or an industry association, ISO convenes an expert group tasked with the creation of a particular standard through a consensus process.

ISO develops international standards across a wide range of industries, including technology, food, and healthcare, in order to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, of good quality, and ultimately, facilitate international trade. As such, it acts between the public and the private sector.

To date, ISO has published more than 22 000 standards.

Digital Activities

A large number of the international standards and related documents developed by ISO are related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) that was created in 1983 and established a universal reference model for communication protocols. The organisation is also active in the field of emerging technologies including blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).

The standards are developed by various technical committees dedicated to specific areas including information security, cybersecurity, privacy protection, AI, and intelligent transport systems.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

The joint technical committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for AI is known as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 42 Artificial intelligence and is responsible for the development of standards in this area. To date, it has published one standard specifically pertaining to AI with 18 others in development.

ISO/IEC TR 24028 provides an overview of trustworthiness in AI systems, detailing the associated threats and risks associated and addresses approaches on availability, resiliency, reliability, accuracy, safety, security, and privacy.

The standards under development include those that cover: concepts and terminology for AI (ISO/IEC 22989); bias in AI systems and AI-aided decision-making (ISO/IEC TR 24027); AI risk management (ISO/IEC 23894); a framework for AI systems using machine learning (ISO/IEC 23053); and the assessment of machine learning classification performance (ISO/IEC TS 4213).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Cloud computing 

ISO and IEC also have a joint committee for standards related to cloud computing which currently has 19 published standards and a further 7 in development.

Of those published, two standards of note include ISO/IEC 19086-1, which provides an overview, foundational concepts, and definitions for a cloud computing service level agreement framework, and ISO/IEC 17789, which specifies the cloud computing reference architecture.

Standards under development include those on health informatics (ISO/TR 21332.2); the audit of cloud services (ISO/IEC 22123-2.2); and data flow, categories, and use (ISO/IEC 19944-1).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Internet of things 

Recognising the ongoing developments in the field of IoT, ISO has a number of dedicated standards both published and in development, including those for intelligent transport systems (ISO 19079), future networks for IoT (ISO/IEC TR 29181-9), unique identification for IoT (ISO/IEC 29161), Internet of Media Things (ISO/IEC 23093-3), trustworthiness of IoT (ISO/IEC 30149), and industrial IoT systems (ISO/IEC 30162).

 IoT security is addressed in standards such as ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002, which provide a common language for governance, risk, and compliance issues related to information security.

 In addition, there are seven standards under development, some of which provide a methodology for the trustworthiness of an IoT system or service (ISO/IEC 30147); a trustworthiness framework (ISO/IEC 30149); the requirements of an IoT data exchange platform for various IoT services (ISO/IEC 30161); and a real-time IoT framework (ISO/IEC 30165).

 Up-to-date information on the ISO and IEC joint technical committee for IoT (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

ISO’s standardisation work in the field of telecommunications infrastructure covers areas such as planning and installation of networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 14763-2 and ISO/IEC TR 14763-2-1), corporate telecommunication networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 17343), local and metropolitan area networks (e.g. ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-A), private integrated telecommunications networks (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 14475), and wireless networks. Next generation networks – packet-based public networks able to provide telecommunications services and make use of multiple quality of service enabled transport technology – are equally covered (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 26905).

ISO also has standards for the so-called future networks, which are intended to provide futuristic capabilities and services beyond the limitations of current networks, including the Internet.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee that develops these standards (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Blockchain 

ISO has published three standards on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies: ISO/TR 23455 gives an overview of smart contracts in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies; ISO/TR 23244 tackles privacy and personally identifiable information protection; and ISO 22739 covers fundamental blockchain terminology respectively.

ISO also has a further ten standards on blockchain in development. These include those related to: security risks, threats and vulnerabilities (ISO/TR 23245.2); security management of digital asset custodians (ISO/TR 23576); taxonomy and ontology (ISO/TS 23258); legally-binding smart contracts (ISO/TS 23259); and guidelines for governance (ISO/TS 23635).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Emerging technologies 

ISO develops standards in the area of emerging technologies. Perhaps the largest number of standards in this area are those related to robotics. ISO has more than 40 different standards either published or in development that cover issues such as: collaborative robots (e.g. ISO/TS 15066); safety requirements for industrial robots (e.g. ISO 10218-2); and personal care robots (e.g. ISO 13482).

Autonomous or so-called intelligent transport systems (ITS) standards are developed by ISO’s ITS Technical Committee and include those for forward vehicle collision warning systems (ISO 15623) and secure connections between trusted devices (ISO/TS 21185).

Standards are also being developed to address the use of virtual reality in learning, education, and training (e.g. ISO/IEC 23843) and the display device interface for augmented reality (ISO/IEC 23763).

Network security 

Information security and network security is also addressed by ISO and IEC standards. The ISO and IEC 27000 family of standards covers information security management systems and are used by organisations to secure information assets such as financial data, intellectual property, and employee information.

For example, ISO/IEC 27031 and ISO/IEC 27035 are specifically designed to help organisations respond, diffuse, and recover effectively from cyberattacks. ISO/IEC 27701 is an extension to ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002 for privacy information management, and details requirements and guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving a Privacy Information Management System (PIMS).

Network security is also addressed by standards on technologies such as the IoT, smart community infrastructures, medical devices, localisation and tracking systems, and future networks.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Encryption 

As more and more information (including sensitive personal data) is stored, transmitted, and processed online, the security, integrity, and confidentiality of such information becomes increasingly important. To this end, ISO has a number of standards for the encryption of data. For example, ISO/IEC 18033-1, currently under development, addresses the nature of encryption and describes certain general aspects of its use and properties. Other standards include ISO/IEC 19772 that covers authenticated encryption, ISO/IEC 18033-3 that specifies encryption systems (ciphers) for the purpose of data confidentiality, and ISO 19092 that allows for encryption of biometric data used for authentication of individuals in financial services for confidentiality or other reasons.

ISO also has standards that focus on identity-based ciphers, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, public key infrastructure, and many more related areas.

Data governance 

Big data is another area of ISO standardization, and around 80% of related standards are developed by the ISO/IEC AI committee. The terminology for big data-related standards is outlined in ISO/IEC 20546, while ISO/IEC 20547-3 covers big data reference architecture.

ISO/IEC TR 20547-2 provides examples of big data use cases with application domains and technical considerations and ISO/IEC TR 20547-5 details a roadmap of existing and future standards in this area. A further eight standards are in development and include those for big data security and privacy (ISO/IEC 27045), terminology used in big data within the scope of predictive analytics (ISO 3534-5), and data science life cycle (ISO/TR 23347).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Privacy and data protection 

Privacy and data protection in the context of ICTs is another area covered by ISO’s standardisation activities. One example is ISO/IEC 29101 which describes a privacy architecture framework.

Others include those for privacy-enhancing protocols and services for identification cards (ISO/IEC 19286); privacy protection requirements pertaining to learning, education, and training systems employing information technologies (ISO/IEC 29187-1); privacy aspects in the context of intelligent transport systems (ISO/TR 12859); and security and privacy requirements for health informatics (ISO/TS 14441).

Digital identities 

Digital signatures that validate digital identities help to ensure the integrity of data and authenticity of particulars in online transactions. This, therefore, contributes to the security of online applications and services. Standards to support this technology cover elements such as: anonymous digital signatures (e.g. ISO/IEC 20008-1 and ISO/IEC 20008-2); digital signatures for healthcare documents (e.g. ISO 17090-4 and ISO 17090-5); and blind digital signatures, which is where the content of the message to be signed is disguised, used in contexts where, for example, anonymity is required. Examples of such standards are ISO 18370-1 and ISO/IEC 18370-2.

Digital tools

ISO has developed an online browsing platform that provides up to date information on ISO standards, graphical symbols, publications, and terms and definitions.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • Yes, ISO governance groups are also meeting virtually.

University of Geneva

Acronym: UNIGE

Address: Rue De-Candolle 5, 1205 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://unige.ch/

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

The University of Geneva (UNIGE) offers more than 280 types of degrees and more than 250 continuing education programmes covering an extremely wide variety of fields across exact sciences, medicine, and humanities.

Digital activities

The university has incorporated digital technology into its strategy and appointed a vice-rector in charge of defining and piloting digital initiatives in the fields of education, research, and services to society. Its digital strategy focuses on three dimensions of digital technology: digital technology for teaching and research, digital solutions for open and connected science and digital expertise in the service fo society.

It also provides courses focusing on digital law, and it has been very active in research related to applied physics and quantum cryptography.

More information on the university’s digital strategy can be found at the dedicated page.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development 

 In an attempt to develop digital skills of its community, the University of Geneva has put in place a series of measures to meet the needs of its students, researchers, administrative staff, and other community members. To this end, the university offers a series of courses on digital technologies and related issues, participates in a number of projects, and provides training and workshops on particular digital skills and tools. It is also developing and deploying its Open Science roadmap.

Moreover, the university created a Digital Law Center (DLC) at the Faculty of Law over the course of implementing its digital strategy. The DLC provides courses focused on the Internet and law. It also organises its annual Digital Law Summer School, where participants can discuss digital law and policy issues such as cybersecurity, privacy, freedom of expression, and intellectual property with leading experts from academia and international organisations. Every year since 2016, the university has organised the Geneva Digital Law Research Colloquium (which is run by the DLC in co-operation with other leading academic centers, including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University). This event is a scientific workshop that gives an opportunity to selected next generation digital law and policy researchers to present and discuss various digital policy issues such as freedom of expression online, copyright, and the Internet of Things with senior high level experts.

Leveraging its multidisciplinary culture, the university has recently created a transversal Data Science Competence Center aiming at federating competencies from all faculties and enabling cross-fertilisation between various disciplines to develop advanced research and services.

The university has also developed a Digital Innovation Incubation Programme that supports residency periods for its members at swissnex San Francisco to enhance the links with the Bay Area.

The university has created a portal for online and blended learning with a set of resources to help tutors prepare their courses and classes. Some of the resources are intended for self-training, while others provide users with training/coaching opportunities with University of Geneva e-learning and blended learning experts.

Digital tools

The university maintains an IT Service Catalogue where students can access all digital tools the university provides, such as the UNIGE Mobile App, UNIGE Portal, UNIGE’s data storage system, and many others.

The University of Geneva also offers a number of online courses.

 Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • The university plans to extend its Zoom license, which was initially acquired for one semester, until the end of the 2020/2021 academic year. Some exams have taken place online.

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

  • The university is using online platforms for e-conferences and plans to deploy them in order to provide alternatives to in-person meetings.

European Organization for Nuclear Research

Acronym: CERN

Address: Espl. des Particules 1, 1211 Meyrin, Switzerland

Website: https://home.cern/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

CERN is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. At CERN, physicists and engineers probe the fundamental structure of the universe. To do this, they use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments – particle accelerators and detectors – to study the basic constituents of matter and the forces that shape the universe. Technologies developed at CERN go on to have a significant impact through their applications in wider society.

Digital activities

CERN has had an important role in the history of computing and networks. The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented at CERN by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists at universities and institutes around the world. Grid computing was also developed at CERN with partners and thanks to funding from the European Commission. The organisation also carries out activities in the areas of cybersecurity, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), data preservation, and quantum technology.

Digital policy issues

Cloud computing 

The scale and complexity of data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, is unprecedented. This data needs to be stored, easily retrieved, and analysed by physicists all over the world. This requires massive storage facilities, global networking, immense computing power, and funding. CERN did not initially have the computing or financial resources to crunch all of the data on site, so in 2002 it turned to grid computing to share the burden with computer centres around the world. The Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG) builds on the ideas of grid technology initially proposed in 1999 by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman. The WLCG relies on a distributed computing infrastructure, as data from the clashes of protons or heavy ions is distributed via the Internet for processing at data centres worldwide. This approach of using ‘virtual machines’ is based on the same paradigm as cloud computing. It is expected that further CERN developments in the field of data processing will continue to influence digital technologies.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In the 1970s, CERN developed CERNET, a lab-wide network to access mainframe computers in its data centre. This pioneering network eventually led CERN to become an early European adopter of TCP/IP for use in connecting systems on site. In 1989, CERN opened its first external TCP/IP connections and by 1990, CERN had become the largest Internet site in Europe and was ready to host the first WWW server. Nowadays, in addition to the WLCG and its distributed computing infrastructure, CERN is also the host of the CERN Internet eXchange Point (CIXP), which optimises CERN’s Internet connectivity and is also open to interested Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Digital standards 

Ever since releasing the World Wide Web software under an open-source model in 1994, CERN has been a pioneer in the open-source field, supporting open-source hardware (with the CERN Open Hardware Licence), open access (with the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics – SCOAP3) and open data (with the CERN Open Data Portal). Several CERN technologies are being developed with open access in mind, such as  Indico, Invenio, Zenodo. Open-source software, such as CERNBox, CTA, EOS, FTS, GeantIV, ROOT , RUCIO, SWAN have been developed to handle, distribute and analyse the huge volumes of data generated by the LHC experiments and are also made available to the wider society.

Data governance 
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CERN manages vast amounts of data, and not only scientific data, but also data in more common formats such as webpages, images and videos, documents, and more. For instance, the CERN Data Centre processes on average one petabyte (one million gigabytes) of data per day. As such, the organisation notes that it faces the challenge of preserving its digital memory. It also points to the fact that many of the tools that are used to preserve data generated by the LHC and other scientific projects are also suitable for preserving other types of data and are made available to the wider society.

Artificial intelligence 

Through CERN openlab, CERN collaborates with leading ICT companies and research institutes. The R&D projects carried out through CERN openlab are currently addressing topics related to data acquisition, computing platforms, data storage architectures, compute provisioning and management, networks and communication, machine learning and data analytics, and quantum technologies. CERN researchers are using machine learning techniques as part of their efforts to ‘maximise the potential for discovery…and optimise resources usage’. Machine learning is used, for instance, to improve the performance of LHC experiments in areas such as particle detection and managing computing resources. Going one step further, at the intersection of AI and quantum computing, CERN openlab is exploring the feasibility of using quantum algorithms to track the particles produced by collisions in the LHC, and is working on developing quantum algorithms to help optimise how data is distributed for storage in the WLCG.

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: IHEID

Address: Maison de la paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2A CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://graduateinstitute.ch

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute aims to promote international co-operation and contribute to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations, governments and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

Digital Activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally-driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, digitalisation has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis, etc.) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration, etc.) for students, staff, and professors.

Various publications address topics related to digitalisation and its impact, such as big data, robotics, crypto mining, terrorism and social media, data in international trade and trade law, Internet governance, digital health, microfinance and Fintech, smart cities, etc.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events that cover Internet-related issues, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issue

Capacity development 

The Institute provides a multidisciplinary perspective on international governance, including research and teaching on Internet governance, digital trade, and artificial intelligence (AI).

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Internet Governance and Economics’, ‘Internet Governance: the Role of International Law, Cybersecurity and Virtual Insecurity’, ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work’, ‘Technology and Development’, and ‘Big Data Analysis’. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life (e.g. big data analysis, digital communication strategy, introduction to programming with Python, data analysis in various contexts, etc.)

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are Internet and AI governance, digitalisation of trade, fintech, AI and humanitarian law, regulatory aspects of data, digital inclusion, and open government data. Some of the prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections below.

The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

Artificial intelligence 

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The faculty also carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility?’ aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

Sustainable development 

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members aim to address the relation between digital technologies and sustainable development. For instance, the ‘Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition’ (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost-effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The project ‘Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world’, hosted at the Global Health Centre, explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal.

Focusing on the Global South, the project ‘African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology’ strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labor: i) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and ii) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

Inclusive finance 

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project ‘Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance’ studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing the fintech and traditional banking.

Online education 

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads, etc.) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns. Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in master and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education.

Thanks to the above developments, the Institute was able to respond quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In a week, the Institute moved to distance working and online teaching.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the 16th to 20th century;
  • Two free online courses (MOOC) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors and guests’ expertise (What Matters Today, In Conversation With, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international history and interdisciplinary master courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually in Zoom), e.g. information sessions for admitted and prospective students are taking place online.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Address: Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unece.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, which discuss and co-operate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical co-operation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international co-operation.

Digital Activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the Internet of Things (e.g. intelligent transport systems and automated driving). Its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation – which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNECE’s subsidiary, CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within the UN Economic and Social Council) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standardisation (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as electronic commerce agreements and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. CEFACT also works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Digital standards 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has developed, together with OASIS, the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard (containing specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet). UNECE’s standardisation work has also resulted in the development of EDIFACT), as well as other digital standards in areas such as agriculture (e.g. electronic crop reports, electronic animal passports, and fishering languages for universal eXchange), e-tendering, and transfer of digital records.

Internet of things 

As part of its work in the field on intelligent transport systems, UNECE carries out several activities in the field of automated driving. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) are aimed at contributing to enabling automated driving functionalities and to ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communication technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with the ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

Blockchain 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Digital and environment 

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as the green economy, shared and safe water, environmental monitoring and assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socioeconomic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is developing a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

UNECE Environmental Conventions (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant)

Sustainable development 

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through leveraging its norms, standards and conventions, building capacities, and providing policy assistance. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 15 (life on land). SDG 5 (gender equality) and 17 (partnerships) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE in relation to these SDGs converge under 4 high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Data governance 

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance. To start with, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a White Paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary CEFACT also cover data-related issues. Examples include the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (aimed to provide a regulatory reference data model within the CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations) and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Secondly, UNECE has a Statistical Division which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems, under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Areas of work include: economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.White Paper: Data Pipeline (2018)

Digital tools

UNECE Dashboard of SDG indicators

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gathering updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Yes, UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020 authorise the Chair of the Commission to convene remote informal meetings of the members of the Executive Committee. It also encourages UNECE subsidiary bodies to explore innovative formats to conduct business remotely. The Executive Committee held a remote informal meeting of members on 20 May 2020. Subsequently, its 110th meeting was also held online, on 10 July 2020.
  • The Conference of European Statisticians held its 68th plenary as a hybrid meeting on 22 June and as an informal virtual meeting on 23–24 June 2020.
  • Several UNECE groups have been holding online meetings. For instance, the 118th session of the Working Party on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) (15–17 July) was held via Webex, without interpretation, and is considered an informal meeting

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020) refers to use of the silence procedure for decision-making.
  • Proceedings of the 118th session of GRSG: ‘Decisions taken during the informal virtual meeting will be circulated after the meeting in the three ECE official languages to the delegations of Contracting Parties via their missions in Geneva for final approval under silence procedure of 10 days.’

European Broadcasting Union

Acronym: EBU

Address: L'Ancienne-Route 17A, Postal Box 45, 1218 Le Grand-Saconnex / Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://ebu.ch

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the world’s leading alliance of public service media. Established in 1950, the organisation is a successor to the International Broadcasting Union (IBU), which was founded in 1925. The EBU consists of 116 member organisations from 56 countries and its aim is to secure a sustainable future for public service media and help them keep up with technological developments. The organisation operates the Eurovision and Euroradio services

Digital Activities 

The EBU supports digital transformation among its members through capacity development, promoting and making use of digital channels, raising awareness of cybersecurity risks, and leveraging the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU aims to help its members understand the challenges and opportunities posed by the digital age and transform their organisations accordingly.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In addition to traditional broadcasting networks – terrestrial, cable, or satellite – media service providers are starting to use content delivery networks (CDNs) to ensure an increased quality of experience (QoE) for their users. In this context, the EBU has set up a Project Group to investigate requirements for a multi-CDN environment (a technical infrastructure able to switch between different connected CDNs dynamically). This Project Group is also looking into the use of big data analytics to monitor QoE. In addition, the EBU maintains its Strategic Programme on Spectrum Management and Regulation, which is focused on helping members work together to ensure that the radio spectrum is efficiently managed and used.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the EBU issued a recommendation to help public service media organisations avoid potential internet congestion caused by greater media consumption and by increased reliance on online collaboration tools.

Digital standards 

Since its inception in 1950, the EBU has been mandated by its members to contribute to standardisation work in all technological fields related to media. This work ranges from TV and radio production equipment to the new broadcasting standards for transmission. This mandate has been naturally extended over the years to the field of mobile technologies, as well as online production and distribution.

The current digital video standard (DVB) and digital radio standards (DAB, DNS) have all been tested by and agreed upon within the EBU by the broadcasting community, before being exported to other standardization bodies (such as the ITU, ETSI, IEEE, etc.).

The EBU has led the development of hybrid radio technologies such as RadioDNS, which is designed for EBU broadcasters to start testing and experimenting without having to deploy the necessary infrastructure themselves.

The organisation has included mobile technologies and standards among the priorities of its Strategic Programme on Future Distribution Strategies and has set up a Mobile Technologies and Standards Group, which ‘seeks to build technical competence within the EBU community in the domain of the current and future mobile technologies, including 4G/LTE and 5G.’ The group undertakes technical studies of 4G and 5G and their standardisation roadmaps, and formulates and co-ordinates EBU positions on mobile standardisation issues.

In 2019, the EBU launched a 5MAG group which brings together different actors to foster the development and deployment of technologies of strategic importance to the media industry. 

Artificial intelligence 

In 2015, the EBU launched its AI and Data Initiative aimed at helping its members leverage the potential of AI and data. The EBU’s AI and Data Group defines the strategy and priorities of the AI and Data Initiative to support members’ data usage and data-driven strategies.

In 2019, the EBU news department published its first report on best practices for AI applications in the field of journalism. The report is publicly available and aims to help improve AI-based solutions in order to serve the public interest and respect human rights.

One of best examples of the EBU’s use of AI is its PEACH (Personalization for EACH) initiative, which has brought together a number of public broadcasters to develop AI-powered tools to deliver the right content to the right audience in accordance with current data protection regulations.

Network neutrality 

The EBU’s work in the field of net neutrality focuses on assisting its members in co-ordinating their positions on broadband network neutrality. To this end, it provides expertise and facilitates initiatives and the drafting of documents concerning net neutrality at the EU level. The EBU also encourages its members to exchange experiences from the national level. Net neutrality is addressed as part of the EBU’s Strategic Programme on Broadcaster Internet Services. Net neutrality is seen as a key principle for public service broadcasters to support and advocate for, as it ensures their services are equally accessible by all Internet users. A large part of this activity is now evolving into AI.

Cybercrime and network security 

The EBU has developed a Strategic Programme on Media Cyber Security, aimed mainly at raising awareness among its members of the increasing cybersecurity risks and threats to broadcasting. This initiative also provides a platform for its members to exchange information on security incidents (e.g. phishing campaigns, targeted malware attacks, etc.), as well as on lessons learnt, projects, and internal procedures. A dedicated working group is focused on defining information security best practices for broadcast companies. The EBU organises an annual Media Cybersecurity Forum, which brings together manufacturers, service providers, and media companies to discuss security issues in the media domain.

Convergence and OTT 

 In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies.’ It also develops a bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities and has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services. 

In addition, there is an intersectoral group composed by EBU’s members and its staff that exchanges best practices for relations between Internet platforms and broadcasters. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, a co-ordinated effort by the technical distribution experts of the EBU and its members monitored the state of the global broadband network to help avoid surcharges due to the increased consumption of on-demand programmes.

Capacity development 

Most of the EBU’s activities are aimed at increasing the capacity of its members to address challenges and embrace opportunities brought about by the digital age. To that end, through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU has developed a number of member support services, such as its expert community network that gathers over 200 experts from across its membership, and a digital knowledge hub with a repository of analyses and best practices. The EBU also offers a wide range of workshops and other sessions aimed at creating awareness about the digital transformation of the public service media, developing peer-to-peer assessment of members’ digital maturity, and initiating tailored interventions based on members’ needs.  

International Telecommunication Union

Acronym: ITU

Address: Pl. des Nations 1211, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://itu.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

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).

Digital Activities

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’.

5G

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).

Satellite

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

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.

Work includes:

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, 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.

Blockchain 

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 Technolog