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ITU and its Role in The Internet

Written by  Yoshio Utsumi
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Yoshio UtsumiIssue:Asia-Pacific I 2001
Article no.:13
Topic:ITU and its Role in The Internet
Author:Yoshio Utsumi
Organisation:International Telecommunication Union, Switzerland
PDF size:20KB

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Article abstract

It is sometimes surprising how myths can be created - and how long they take to die. One of the most enduring misconceptions which ITU deals with is that many people think it has nothing to do with the Internet. This can be explained, in part, by the confusion that the World Wide Web or particular Internet applications are synonymous with the Internet. But anyone with a basic grasp of layered network architecture understands that ITU standards (called Recommendations) are used at almost all layers of the Internet.


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For example, the telecommunications industry provides much of the underlying infrastructure for the Internet and other Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks. Much of this infrastructure is based on ITU recommendations dealing with optical networks, ATM, frame relay, synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) networks and other standards beneath the IP network layer. Likewise, in "last mile" networks, the public switched telephone network (PSTN) provides dial-up or digital subscriber line (DSL) access to the Internet for millions of users. All of this would not be possible without ITU-T recommendations, mainly the V-series on modems or the G-series on DSL technologies. For example, building on the success of the now ubiquitous V.90 Recommend-ation for modems with data rates of up to 56 kbit/s, important enhancements were agreed this year in yet another ITU-T Recommendation: V.92. These enhancements include the ability to put the modem "on-hold" when a network indicates that an incoming call is waiting. Enhancements such as this will give significant benefits to modem users with improved access to interactive services, and the option to exploit voice response facilities associated with Internet browsing. Instead of representing a threat to ITU, the growth of the Internet and other infocommunication networks (such as third generation or 3G mobile data networks) really represents new opportunities for the Union to excel in its core competencies. The "net result" (no pun intended) is a rapid expansion in ITUs IP-related standardisation work. A few trends provide concrete examples of this phenomenon. The first trend is that demand for bandwidth and capacity is driving continuous innovation in access and transport networks. Some examples include leveraging of copper wire "last-mile" networks through ever-faster DSL technologies, re-architecturing of "broadcast" cable networks to support bi-directional IP services and new advances in optical networking techniques (e.g. running IP directly over optical networks). As a result, ITU-T Study Groups 9 and 15, which are directly involved in related standardisation, have witnessed increased participation and interest in their activities. A second trend is the ever-increasing popularity of wireless networks and mobile data services. Most analysts forecast that cellular systems will rapidly merge with handheld computers to become a (if not the) strategic IP services platform. Supporting this prediction, one of the worlds first mobile Internet operators in Asia has attracted more than 11 million subscribers in less than 18 months - thereby becoming the worlds second largest Internet service provider. Directly related is ITUs 3G mobile initiative, IMT-2000 (International Mobile Telecommunications-2000), which lays an important cornerstone of the emerging "mobile information society". IMT-2000 systems are expected to support minimum data speeds of 384 kbit/s to 2 Mbit/s, depending on the environment. A third important trend to emerge is the "unification" and interoperability of IP-based and PSTN network services and applications. Different protocols aim to perform different portions of the process of setting up, controlling, transmitting, and terminating a phone call over IP networks and between IP networks and the PSTN. One success story has been the ITU-T Recommendation H.323 suite of protocols - recognised as a global standard for IP telephony since version 1 was approved in October 1996. The nuts and bolts of IP telephony are being hammered out at the global level in ITU-T study groups, as well as in regional and industrial bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). An important milestone in this collaborative effort is ITU-T H.248, developed jointly by experts from ITU-T Study Group 16 and IETFs Megaco Working Group. H.248 is a "convergence" standard defining the control of gateway devices that can exchange voice, video, facsimile and data traffic between PSTN and IP networks. It received final approval from the ITU membership in June 2000 and will also be published as the Megaco protocol in the IETF. Industry analysts estimate the total international telephone traffic over Internet gateways to be anywhere between 25 to 40 per cent of all traffic by 2004, with a market value of USD 19 billion. Some 60 per cent of major public telecommunication operators are said to believe that IP telephony is capable of becoming the main means of tele-communications by 2004 while 25 per cent reckon that the majority of their voice traffic will be carried over IP. Since support for IP-related technologies is now a strategic element in the design, development and use of telecommunica-tion networks, it is not surprising that most of ITU-Ts study groups have now re-oriented their work programmes towards IP. In fact, a brand new "Y-series" set of recommendations has been established to cover IP aspects of telecommunication networks such as architecture, access, transport, performance and signalling. This framework is coordinated by ITU-T Study Group 13, ITU-Ts lead study group on IP. In line with industry trends, ITU has continuously accelerated its standardisation process. Y.1310 is one example of how ITU is now moving at "Internet speeds". From start to finish, the approval process for this recommendation took less than eight months. This has led some of ITUs project collaborators in the IETF to comment that the "ITU moves too fast!" In addition to improvements over conventional telephone networks there are advances in accessing Internet services over cable networks. Study Group 9 has previously produced two Recommendations, J.83 and J.112, related to providing IP-based services over cable networks. Continuing this work, Study Group 9 has published J.120 on "webcasting" and created a new "IPCablecom" project that defines an architecture and protocol for real-time IP-based services over cable networks. In total, 14 recommendations from the IPCablecom project are planned. In the field of electronic commerce, ITU has done important work through ITU-T Study Group 7 in establishing the technical standards necessary to ensure network security and consumer con-fidence. In April 2000, Study Group 7 adopted an improved version of its well-known X.509 standard, which is used in both symmetric and asymmetric authentication and encryption appli-cations, including for e-commerce transactions. This telecommunications standard has been universally adopted by the computing industry. The new edition of the X.509 aims to improve the environment for B2B (business-to-business) transactions by setting out a framework for privilege management infrastructure as well as improved standards for attribute certificates, which define user access privileges. Study Group 7 also recently adopted two more new Recommendations related to public key infrastructure (PKI) providers and digital signatures: X.842 and X.843. Since mid-2000, ITU has been working on another interesting project called ENUM. ENUM is a "convergence" protocol from the IETF that will map ITU-T E.164 telephone numbers to the Internets Domain Name System to look up resources associated with that number (using the linking language of the World Wide Web called Uniform Resource Identifiers). ENUM may emerge as a sort of "glue" protocol linking the PSTN with the Internet. ITU-T Study Group 2 is now actively collaborating with IETFs Internet Architecture Board on the operational, administration and dele-gation issues related to the deployment of ENUM protocol-based services. This will obviously require extensive consultation with administrators of resources derived from the international E.164 numbering plan, including national and integrated numbering plan administrators. Recent key ITU events clearly indicate that its future standardisation work will place much emphasis on the wireless world, where 3G mobile and wireless Internet have become the buzzwords. IMT-2000, which is standardised in a suite of interdependent ITU-R and ITU-T recommendations, is receiving much attention. To rapidly address the remaining challenges, the World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly, in October 2000, established a special Study Group known as IMT-2000 and Beyond. This new group has more flexible working methods than other study groups. To conclude, the myth that ITU has nothing to do with the Internet is clearly off the mark. In fact, as support for IP-based networks becomes more and more integrated into the global telecommunica-tions framework, it is obviously going to be much harder to distinguish between ITUs telecommunication activities and its Internet or IP-based network activities. Conclusion To conclude, the myth that ITU has nothing to do with the Internet is clearly off the mark. In fact, as support for IP-based networks becomes more and more integrated into the global telecommunica-tions framework, it is obviously going to be much harder to distinguish between ITUs telecommunication activities and its Internet or IP-based network activities. Indeed, most of ITUs standardisation activities now have either explicit or tangential relationship with IP networks. Similarly, IMT-2000 is claimed by most analysts to be just as equally important for mobile Internet access as it is for voice. Likewise, services based on IP telephony, standardised in ITU-T recommendations, are very likely to become a common feature of the general telecommunications landscape - if for no better reason than the benefits of voice and data integration. For these reasons, the boundaries between the telecommunications world and the IP world, including the Internet, will increasingly only be shades of grey.

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