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The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) is one of the three sectors (divisions or units) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); it coordinates standards for telecommunications.

The standardization work of ITU dates back to 1865, with the birth of the International Telegraph Union (ITU). ITU became a United Nations specialized agency in 1947. The International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT, from French: Comité Consultatif International Téléphonique et Télégraphique) was created in 1956, and was renamed ITU-T in 1993.[1]

ITU-T has a permanent secretariat, the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB), based at the ITU HQ in Geneva, Switzerland. The elected Director of the Bureau is Malcolm Johnson of the UK. Johnson was elected by the ITU Membership to the directorship for a 4-year term in November 2006 and was reelected for a second term starting January 2011.


  • Primary function 1
  • History 2
  • "Real time" standardization 3
    • Development of Recommendations 3.1
    • Approval of Recommendations 3.2
  • Series and Recommendations 4
    • Series of ITU Recommendations 4.1
    • International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) 4.2
    • Key standards published by ITU 4.3
  • Hot topics 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Primary function

The ITU-T mission is to ensure the efficient and timely production of standards covering all fields of telecommunications on a worldwide basis, as well as defining tariff and accounting principles for international telecommunication services.[2]

The international standards that are produced by the ITU-T are referred to as "Recommendations" (with the word ordinarily capitalized to distinguish its meaning from the ordinary sense of the word "recommendation"), as they become mandatory only when adopted as part of a national law.

Since the ITU-T is part of the ITU, which is a United Nations specialized agency, its standards carry more formal international weight than those of most other standards development organizations that publish technical specifications of a similar form.[3]


Although the ITU itself dates back to 1865,[1] the formal standardization processes are more recent.

Two consultative committees were created by the ITU’s 1925 Paris conference to deal with the complexities of the international telephone services (known as CCIF, as the French acronym) and long-distance telegraphy (CCIT).[4]

In view of the basic similarity of many of the technical problems faced by the CCIF and CCIT, a decision was taken in 1956 to merge them to become the single International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT, in the French acronym).[4]

In 1992, the Plenipotentiary Conference (the top policy-making conference of ITU) saw a reform of ITU, giving the Union greater flexibility to adapt to an increasingly complex, interactive and competitive environment. It was at this time that CCITT was renamed the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), as one of three Sectors of the Union alongside the Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) and the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).[5]

Historically, the Recommendations of the CCITT were presented to four-yearly plenary assemblies for endorsement, and the full set of Recommendations were published after each plenary assembly. However, the delays in producing texts, and translating them into other working languages, did not suit the fast pace of change in the telecommunications industry.[6]

"Real time" standardization

The rise of the de facto standards after the fact.

The ITU-T now operates under much more streamlined processes. The time between an initial proposal of a draft document by a member company and the final approval of a full-status ITU-T Recommendation can now be as short as a few months (or less in some cases). This makes the standardization approval process in the ITU-T much more responsive to the needs of rapid technology development than in the ITU's historical past.[7] New and updated Recommendations are published on an almost daily basis, and much of the library of over 3,270 Recommendations is now free of charge online.[8][9][10] (Specifications jointly maintained by the ITU-T and ISO/IEC are not free.[11])

ITU-T has moreover tried to facilitate cooperation between the various forums and standard-developing organizations (SDOs). This collaboration is necessary to avoid duplication of work and the consequent risk of conflicting standards in the market place.[12]

In the work of standardization, ITU-T cooperates with other SDOs, e.g., the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).[13]

Development of Recommendations

Most of the work of ITU-T is carried out by its Sector Members and Associates, while the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) is the executive arm of ITU-T and coordinator for a number of workshops and seminars to progress existing work areas and explore new ones. The events cover a wide array of topics in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) and attract high-ranking experts as speakers, and attendees from engineers to high-level management from all industry sectors.[14]

The technical work, the development of Recommendations, of ITU-T is managed by Study Groups (SGs). The people involved in these SGs are experts in telecommunications from all over the world. There are currently 13 SGs. Study groups meet face to face according to a calendar issued by the TSB.[15] SGs are augmented by Focus Groups (FGs), an instrument created by ITU-T, providing a way to quickly react to ICT standardization needs and allowing great flexibility in terms of participation and working methods. The key difference between SGs and FGs is that the latter have greater freedom to organize and finance themselves, and to involve non-members in their work. Focus Groups can be created very quickly, are usually short-lived and can choose their own working methods, leadership, financing, and types of deliverables.[16] Recent examples include work on Next Generation Networking, Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and digital identity management.[17]

Approval of Recommendations

The “Alternative Approval Process” (AAP) is a fast-track approval procedure that was developed to allow standards to be brought to market in the timeframe that industry now demands.

This dramatic overhaul of standards-making by streamlining approval procedures was implemented in 2001 and is estimated to have cut the time involved in this critical aspect of the standardization process by 80 to 90 per cent. This means that an average standard which took around four years to approve and publish until the mid nineties, and two years until 1997, can now be approved in an average of two months, or as little as five weeks.

Besides streamlining the underlying procedures involved in the approval process, an important contributory factor to the use of AAP is electronic document handling. Once the approval process has begun the rest of the process can be completed electronically, in the vast majority of cases, with no further physical meetings.

The introduction of AAP also formalizes public/private partnership in the approval process by providing equal opportunities for both Sector Members and Member States in the approval of technical standards.

Once the text of a draft Recommendation prepared by SG experts is considered mature, it is submitted for review to an SG meeting. If agreed by the meeting it is given Consent. This means that the SG has given its consent that the text is sufficiently mature to initiate a final review process leading to approval of the draft Recommendation.

After this Consent has been achieved, TSB announces the start of the AAP procedure by posting the draft text to the ITU-T web site and calling for comments. This gives the opportunity for all members to review the text. This phase, called Last Call, is a four-week period in which comments can be submitted by Member States and Sector Members.

If no comments other than editorial corrections are received, the Recommendation is considered approved since no issues were identified that might need any further work. However, if there are any comments, the SG chairman, in consultation with TSB, sets up a comment resolution process by the concerned experts. The revised text is then posted on the web for an Additional Review period of three weeks.

Similar to the Last Call phase, in Additional Review the Recommendation is considered as approved if no comments are received. If comments are received, it is apparent that there are some issues that still need more work, and the draft text and all comments are sent to the next Study Group meeting for further discussion and possible approval.[18]

Those Recommendations considered as having policy or regulatory implications are approved through what is known as the “Traditional Approval Process” (TAP), which allows a longer period for reflection and commenting by Member States. TAP Recommendations are also translated into the six working languages of ITU (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).[19]

Series and Recommendations

ITU-T Recommendations are the names given to telecommunications and computer protocol specification documents published by ITU-T.

Many of the Recommendations that define OSI are also ISO standards.

Standards for Internet protocols are typically developed in the IETF, and standards for mobile telephone systems are developed in ETSI and other forums.

Series of ITU Recommendations

ITU-T issues Recommendations that have names like X.500, where X is the series and 500 is an identifying number. When a Recommendation is updated, it will (mostly) keep the same number, so the year of issue may be necessary to identify a specific version of a Recommendation. The term "X.500" is used both to refer to the specific X.500 Recommendation, and to the entire family of Recommendations named X.5xx, where the specific X.500 Recommendation forms the introduction and overview to the set.

International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs)

In addition to the ITU-T Recommendations, which have non-mandatory status until they are adopted in national laws, ITU-T is also the custodian of a binding international treaty, the International Telecommunication Regulations. The ITRs go back to the earliest days of the ITU when there were two separate treaties, dealing with telegraph and telephone. The ITRs were adopted, as a single treaty, at the World Administrative Telegraphy and Telephone Conference held in Melbourne, 1988 (WATTC-88).[20]

The ITRs comprise ten articles which deal, inter alia, with the definition of international telecommunication services, cooperation between countries and national administrations, safety of life and priority of telecommunications and charging and accounting principles. The adoption of the ITRs in 1988 is often taken as the start of the wider liberalization process in international telecommunications, though a few countries, including United States and United Kingdom, had made steps to liberalize their markets before 1988.[21]

The Constitution and Convention of ITU provides for the amendment of ITRs through a World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Accordingly, in 1998 there began a process of review of the ITRs;[22] and in 2009 extensive preparations began for such a conference, WCIT-12. In addition to "regional preparatory meetings,"[23] the ITU Secretariat developed 13 "Background Briefs on key issues" that were expected to be discussed at the conference.[24] Convened by ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré, the Conference, WCIT-12, was then held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the period 3-14 December 2014.[25] [26]

Key standards published by ITU

Hot topics

  • ITU-T is committed to “bridging the standardization gap” – disparities in the ability of developing countries, relative to developed ones, to access, implement, contribute to and influence international ICT standards.[29]
  • The ICT Security Standards Roadmap[30] has been developed to assist in the development of security standards by bringing together information about existing standards and current standards work in key standards development organizations.
  • The Next Generation Networks (NGN) concept takes into consideration new realities in the telecommunication industry characterized by factors such as; the need to converge and optimize the operating networks and the extraordinary expansion of digital traffic (i.e., increasing demand for new multimedia services, mobility, etc.).
  • ITU newslog (February 2014). First of its kind publication features ITU-T standards for smart grid and home networking. 

See also


  1. ^ a b "ITU's History".  
  2. ^ ITU-T and TSB General Information
  3. ^ (p13)
  4. ^ a b "CCITT - 50 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE - 1956-2006".  
  5. ^ "CCITT - 50 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE - 1956-2006".  
  6. ^ "CCITT - 50 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE - 1956-2006".  
  7. ^ "CCITT - 50 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE - 1956-2006".  
  8. ^ ITU-T Standards now freely available online
  9. ^ Telecom Standards Newsletter, September 1 2007, Free access for all to ITU-T standards
  10. ^ Free access for all to ITU-T standards
  11. ^ ITU-T Recommendations overview
  12. ^ "CCITT - 50 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE - 1956-2006".  
  13. ^ (s10)
  14. ^, (s13-16), General information on TSB
  15. ^, (s16), ITU-T Study Groups (Study Period 2009-2012)
  16. ^, (s23-24), ITU-T Focus Groups
  17. ^ ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) - Focus Groups
  18. ^, (s28-29), ITU-T e-FLASH - Issue No. 22
  19. ^, (s27), ITU-T e-FLASH - Issue No. 22
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ ITU-T - Review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs)
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Ben-Tovim, Erez (February 2014). "{ITU} {} - {B}roadband Home Networking". In Berger, Lars T. and Schwager, Andreas and Pagani, Pascal and Schneider, Daniel M. {MIMO} Power Line Communications: {N}arrow and Broadband Standards, {EMC}, and Advanced Processing. Devices, Circuits, and Systems. CRC Press.  
  28. ^ X.805 : Security architecture for systems providing end-to-end communications
  29. ^
  30. ^

External links

  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (official site)
  • ITU Standardization Sector (ITU-T)
  • ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R)
  • ITU Development Sector (ITU-D)
  • ITU-T Recommendations

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