General framework

/ Updated on 06.05.2013

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the oldest governmental international organization, established in 1865, and the largest world telecommunications organization, being, since in 1947, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

Its fundamental purposes are, in general terms: the promotion of peaceful relations and international cooperation among peoples, as well as its economic and social development, through the improvement and rational use of telecommunications of all kinds; more specifically the regulation of telecommunications at world level; spectrum and geostationary satellite orbit management; the establishment of operation standards regarding equipment and systems; the coordination of the necessary data for the planning and operation of telecommunications services; as well as, within the system of the United Nations, the development of telecommunications and connected infrastructures.

ITU gathers today 193 State members and more than 700 entities with interests in the telecommunications sector, from operators to manufacturers, as Sector Members. Portugal was one of the founding members of the ITU and has participated intensively in its work.

The official languages of the ITU are: Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, English, and Russian.

The present ITU structure (resulting from the Constitution and Convention adopted in 1992) consists of three “hierarchic”  levels - main bodies (associated with the intergovernmental of the ITU and/or of a “horizontal” character); sectors and general secretariat - with the three main intervention areas of the ITU - radiocommunication, telecommunication standardization and telecommunication development.

The supreme authority of the Union is the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP), a meeting composed of delegations from the Union's Member States, held every four years to adopt the underlying policies of the organization and determine its structure and activities. In the period between plenipotentiary conferences, the management of the ITU is ensured by the Council, to which the PP delegates certain competencies. The current Council consists of 46 Member States elected by the PP. Portugal is a member of the Council since 1994.

The 3 sectors present differences not only at the supreme bodies level (as to the designation, competencies and periodicity) but also at an operation level, notwithstanding the fact that the work structures are very similar (Advisory Group + Study Groups):

  • The Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R)  aims to implement the Union’s objectives in the field of radiocommunications, namely to ensure rational, equitable, efficient and economical use of the radio frequency spectrum by all radiocommunication services, including those using geostationary satellite orbit; its supreme bodies are the World Radiocommunication Conference, whose job is to revise the Radio Regulations) and the Radiocommunication Assembly (responsible for making decisions on the sector’s operation and structure), normally convened every two to three years; Regional Radiocommunication Conferences may also be held (dealing with specific radiocommunications issues of a regional character), where necessary and with no defined periodicity; within this sector also functions the Radio Regulations Board (RRB), the members of which are elected at the Plenipotentiary Conference.
  • The Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) aims to implement the Union’s objectives in the field of standardization, by studying technical, operation and tariff questions, the results of which are published as recommendations, having in view worldwide telecommunication standardization; its supreme body is the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, that meets every four years.
  • The Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) aims to implement the Union’s objectives in the field of telecommunication development, namely to facilitate and to improve telecommunication development, fostering, organizing and coordinating cooperation and technical assistance activities; in addition, ITU-D carries out projects in the area of telecommunications in the scope of the United Nations Development Program; its supreme body is the World Telecommunication Development Conference, which is convened every four years; Regional Telecommunication Development Conferences may also be held, with the purpose of preparing the World Conferences at regional level.

The General Secretariat - a permanent structure that supports the organization - reflects, in a certain way, the other two levels, and comprises the office of the Secretary-General, an horizontal department, and three departments, headed by elected Directors, who give specific support to each sector. The Secretary-General is the supreme ITU representative, being elected by the PP, along with the three Directors and the Deputy Secretary-General.

Further information:

  • UIT