WTSA: Laying A Solid Foundation For Our Digital Future


As the world recovers from the  COVID-19 pandemic, all of us need to do our part to build tomorrow’s digital future. A global conference like WTSA must ultimately serve to share the benefits of tech with everyone. No exceptions! According to Houlin Zhao.

Today, I opened in Geneva the long-awaited World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) – a conference that will set the direction of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the coming years in the crucial field of standardization.

WTSA ensures ITU standards meet emerging industrial and societal needs. It is the first of three major ITU conferences taking place in 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the fundamental role of digital transformation in virtually every aspect our lives and economies.

So much of this transformation depends on technical standards. Even before the pandemic began, industries were converging and entering a new shared space. The world was moving ahead with new information and communication technologies (ICTs), depending on international standards to ensure their smooth integration and worldwide interoperability.

Building ecosystems

New and diverse partners have started moving forward together in ITU standardization work over the past few years.

Our new members include companies for energy and utilities, shipping and logistics, and automotive production, along with tech fields like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, fintech, over-the-top applications, blockchain, and quantum information technology.

More and more start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have joined ITU, reflecting their collective weight as ICT innovators. We are also welcoming new members from academia and research institutes.

Many of ITU’s new members come from vertical markets  with particularly high or fast-growing demand for ICT standards.

Collaborating to build technical and business ecosystems may be complex, but it is more important now than ever before.

WTSA provides the opportunity to help all industry sectors deliver on emerging digital technologies, in fields ranging from 5G to AI to the Internet of Things.

An opportunity to deliver

As the world recovers from the pandemic, all of us need to do our part to build tomorrow’s digital future. A global conference like WTSA must ultimately serve to share the benefits of tech with everyone. No exceptions!

Right now, too many people around the world are still unconnected or can’t afford devices and services. Too many find digital tools overly complicated or not secure enough.

As digital leaders and decision-makers, we must foster innovation for technologies that connect underserved communities meaningfully. Reaching the unconnected increasingly requires innovative policies.

Commitment to inclusive standardization processes can help break these cycles of exclusion and accelerate digital transformation for all.

Much will hinge on ITU standards – which facilitate not just openness and interoperability, but also cost reduction through economies of scale. Global standards serve to level the playing field for developing countries, which helps spark innovation all over the world.

This means meaningful innovation in healthcare, financial services, energy, agriculture, education, smart cities, and other areas related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations for 2030.

The task before us

Our Common Agenda, the ambitious project recently launched by the UN Secretary-General to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, highlights the importance of digital cooperation. It underscores the digitalization of business and the digital transformation of societies and economies worldwide. International standardization will be critical to its success.

Open platforms such as ITU Focus Groups pave the way forward, with membership-driven ITU Study Groups then laying out the international standards that give everyone an opportunity to move forward together.

The breadth of topics under study, combined with strong and growing Focus Group participation, highlights the expanding variety of stakeholders we have engaged. Collaborative initiatives like AI for Good, Digital Financial Inclusion, Smart Sustainable Cities, and Intelligent Transport Systems also add tremendous value in ITU standardization.

Growing together

Our commitment to inclusive dialogue helps new partners take on constructive roles, as well as helping us better define ITU’s expected deliverables.

Over the coming ten days, WTSA will consider the changing dynamics of ICT innovation, the progress achieved in supporting various vertical markets, and the many new communities joining the ITU standardization arm, also known as ITU-T.

As we do this important work, let’s remember that standards create a common language between people and communities in support of social economic development and peace.

We are living in a challenging time – marked by urgent and looming crises, but also great opportunities. As ITU’s standardization work continues expanding, let us ensure it keeps providing value for more industries and growing numbers of stakeholders — and for the benefit of all.

  • Editor’s Note: Zhao is secretary-general at ITU. Based on Mr. Zhao’s opening remarks at the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly on  March 1, 2022.

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