Interview with Chaesub Lee, Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, International Telecommunication Union
We are very grateful to Mr. Chaesub Lee, Director of ITU-T, who was brilliantly re-elected at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai in November 2018, for agreeing to devote this interview to us despite his busy agenda.
Q1: On May 17 of each year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) celebrates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. The theme for this day, for 2019, is “Bridging the Standardization Gap”. Why the choice of this theme this year?
With international standards, we share innovation worldwide. This year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) will highlight the importance of international standards to economic development and celebrate the benefits of inclusive standardization processes. Advances in fields such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) have the potential to deliver considerable social and economic benefits and accelerate progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. ITU aims to ensure that all regions of the world are able to share in these benefits. The importance of inclusive standardization processes is more evident than ever. This year’s WTISD will refresh advocacy efforts to ensure that all of us have equal opportunity to benefit from the ICT advances changing our world.
Q2: How can we precisely reduce this fracture especially on the side of developing countries?
The inclusivity of the ITU standardization platform is supported by ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) programme, a programme that assists developing countries in improving their capacity to participate in the development and implementation of international ICT standards.
Under the BSG programme, we offer financial assistance to delegates from certain eligible developing countries to support their participation in ITU standardization. Companies in certain developing countries are able to join ITU for a greatly reduced membership fee. We continue to increase the number of ITU meetings held in developing countries, and we offer online ‘remote participation’ for the majority of our meetings. We have developed guidelines on the establishment of ‘national standardization secretariats’, and regional groups within our standardization expert groups have proven very effective in ensuring that ITU standardization work addresses the needs of all the world’s regions.
We have also seen encouraging results emerging from a new training programme that assists ITU delegates in developing the practical skills necessary to maximize the effectiveness their participation in the ITU standardization process. Since the introduction of these training sessions in 2016, they have been attended by some 500 delegates representing 82 countries.
Q3: What role for standardization with technological advances that evolve at high speed?
The ICT standardization ecosystem has evolved considerably, in tune with the increasing speed of technological advance. This ecosystem has grown to include numerous standards-setting entities, some very focused and others very broad in scope.
Small industry forums might be capable of setting standards faster, but the drawback of that approach is that the standards agreed often speak to the priorities of only a small set of companies and might not be sufficient to ensure interoperability, compatibility and safety when part of a larger system.
A formal standards-developing organization (SDO) such as ITU operates using principles that ensure that all voices are heard, that standards efforts do not favour particular commercial interests, and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse set of stakeholders that comprise the globally representative ITU membership.
Standards developed by single companies or small groups of companies may however achieve great success, adopted by a broad range of industry players. In such cases, it is not uncommon for an SDO to remodel such standards as international standards to ensure that they are globally applicable.
Q4: Is ITU also working on norm-setting in areas such as autonomous cars or AI?
ITU addresses intelligent transport systems in our standardization work for radiocommunications, security, multimedia, and performance and quality of service. Road safety and automotive cybersecurity are our top priorities, and we build on strong history of ITU work to limit technology-related driver distraction. We have also built valuable collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the body responsible for global vehicle regulation. Working in partnership for more than ten years, ITU and UNECE have built productive dialogue between our respective communities. This dialogue is producing encouraging results, with UNECE now looking to ITU for technical standards in support of vehicle regulations.
ArtificiaI Intelligence (AI) is impacting ITU’s technical work in fields such as security, coding algorithms, data processing and management, and network management and orchestration. We expect that this trend will continue. New ITU standards address machine learning’s contribution to the increasing automation of network management and orchestration, and this concept of network ‘self-optimization’ is very much part of the discussion when it comes to emerging 5G and IoT networks. ITU is also working in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) to support AI’s contribution to health, in particular by developing evaluation methods to assess the degree to which ‘AI for Health’ use cases have achieved Proof of Concept.
Q5: In a digital world, is cybersecurity not one of the biggest challenges facing standardization organizations like ITU?
Security is the greatest challenge facing the ICT ecosystem at large. Security will be a key determinant of the reliability and safety of new technologies and their success in gaining users’ trust. This is well recognized by ITU members. We see evidence of this recognition in the growing number of ITU standards under development in the field of security. Security aspects of quantum technologies, blockchain and intelligent transport systems are among the range of new subjects entering ITU’s standardization work plan. ITU standardization work is contribution-driven. It has been encouraging to see ITU’s security studies welcoming new subjects and new communities to propel our standardization work on these subjects.
Q6-The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly of 2016 (WTSA 16), which took place in Tunisia, adopted resolution 98, entitled “Enhancing the standardization of Internet of things and smart cities and communities for global development “. Can you tell us the status of the application of this resolution?
ITU has been engaged in IoT standardization for over ten years but this work has taken on a new dimension in recent years, devoting more attention to IoT applications in smart cities and communities. Our priority is to support interoperability and efficient data processing and management. Resolution 98 accelerated ITU membership’s support for this work, highlighting ITU members’ recognition of its importance to sustainable development.
IoT-enabled smart cities will be built in collaboration by the public and private sector. ITU is a venue where standards experts are gaining insight into how their work can assist government, and governments are learning where technical standards can help them to innovate efficiently and at scale.
More than 50 cities worldwide are measuring the progress of their smart city initiatives using ‘Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities’ based on ITU standards. These indicators are promoted by the ‘United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative’, an initiative supported by 16 United Nations bodies which advocates for public policy to ensure that ICTs – and ICT standards in particular – play a definitive role in the transition to smart cities.
Q7-Standardization has become indispensable for national and international communication in order to ensure the quality of service and the security of exchanges required by professional and private users. How is coordination ensured between the three standardization bodies – IEC, ISO and ITU – to ensure this security?
Around 10 per cent of ITU standards are common or aligned texts with ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (Information Technology). IEC, ISO and ITU draw great strength from our mutual commitment to cooperation. As the world’s three leading SDOs, the cooperation of IEC, ISO and ITU provides a guiding light to other standards bodies – it benefits the entire standardization ecosystem. Many standards experts participate in all three bodies, and this continues to prove a very practical way to build cooperation. We also operate a Joint Task Force focused on the strategic coordination of our standardization work.
Q8-ITU’s international standardization of 5G systems will conclude in 2020. Could you tell us more about ITU’s work on both radio and non-radio aspects of 5G?
ITU is coordinating the international standardization of IMT-2020 (5G) radio interface specifications with a process based on that used to coordinate the standardization of IMT-2000 (3G) and IMT-Advanced (4G) systems. This process has a proven track-record of success and a reliability befitting its importance. It is a highly cooperative process that includes all Member States, industry, mobile operators, and national, regional and global research and standardization bodies, as indicated by the following non-exhaustive list: 3GPP, 3GPP2, 4G Americas, 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership, 5G Innovation Center, APT Wireless Group, Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum, ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, CDG, ETSI, US METIS Project, GSMA, IEEE, ITT-2020 Promotion Group, ITRI, NGMN, NYU Wireless , TSDSI, TIA, TTA, TTC, UMTS Forum, WiMax Forum, and Wireless World Research Forum.
In the approach to 2020, ITU will also continue to release standards on networking and transport innovation relevant to industry preparations for the deployment of IMT-2020 systems. Software-driven network management and orchestration continues to transform telecom operations. IMT-2020 systems will incorporate advanced software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualization (NFV) and cloud computing capabilities, significantly altering network architectures and network management-control. ITU is supporting this transformation with the development of new standards for networking innovation, the evolution of the transport network, and environmental sustainability.
Q9-Finally, can you briefly describe the process of developing a standard at ITU?
Thousands of experts work year-round to agree the technical standards essential to the cohesion of the global ICT ecosystem. ITU standardization is driven predominantly by ITU’s private-sector members, industry players that come together at ITU to develop voluntary international standards (ITU Recommendations) that meet their need for common platforms for growth and innovation.
ITU’s 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’s work plan. Similarly, the standards developed as a result are approved when ITU’s membership reaches consensus on their composition.
ITU standards are voluntary technical standards – conformance to these standards is not mandatory unless such conformance is mandated by national law. Despite their implementation being voluntary, the approval of ITU standards by consensus ensures the buy-in of all stakeholders, increasing the likelihood that these standards will be implemented worldwide.
This interview was conducted by Ahmed Khaouja.