As International Telecommunication Union turns 150, Ban hails ‘resilience’ of oldest UN agency

Students of Computer Sciences at Khowaja Institute of Information Technology (KIIT) in Hyderabad, Pakistan learn computing skills. Photo: Visual News Associates/World Bank

17 May 2015 – Marking 150 years since founding of oldest member in the United Nations system, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today applauded the continued resilience and relevance of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), emphasizing that telecommunications – as well as information and communications technology (ICT) – drive innovation.

The ITU was established on 17 May 1865 with the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the day is observed annually as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This year, coinciding with the agency's 150th anniversary, the Day, which is on the theme 'Telecommunications and ICTs: Drivers of innovation,' will be marked by celebrations in some 50 countries around the world.

In addition to celebrations to be held in Geneva, where ITU is headquartered, a special ceremony is scheduled in Paris to mark the signing of the 1865 Telegraph Convention and another ceremony will be held in Madrid, attended by King Felipe VI of Spain, to commemorate the re-naming of the International Telegraph Union as the International Telecommunication Union in 1932.

“ITU has earned its global reputation for resilience and relevance,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a video message applauding the agency's many contributions as the oldest member in the United Nations system.

“Telecommunications – as well as information and communications technology – drive innovation,” Mr. Ban said. “The digital revolution has transformed our world. New information and communication technologies can help boost the economy and protect the environment.”

“This is a milestone year – the 150th anniversary of ITU, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, and the potential starting year for transforming our world. Let us work together to harness the power of technology for our common future,” the UN chief declared.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said on the occasion: “The remarkable history of ITU exemplifies its stellar role in connecting the world to the most advanced and innovative means of communication, from the days of the telegraph to the Internet and mobile broadband, which now allows us to be in touch anytime, anywhere with friends, family, colleagues and even things.”

“Throughout our 150-year history, we have promoted international cooperation, working to achieve practical solutions to integrate new communications technologies as they develop, spreading their benefits to all,” Mr. Zhao said.

This year, ITU 150 Awards are being launched to recognize individuals past and present from government, ICT industry, academia, and civil society that have contributed to improving lives of world citizens through ICT innovations in collaboration with ITU.

They are being awarded to:

  • Martin Coopers, a pioneer in wireless communications and referred to as the 'father' of portable cellular telephony. He is an inventor, entrepreneur and futurist who conceived the first portable cellular phone in 1973. Cooper knew then that people needed the freedom that comes from anywhere, anytime telephony.
  • Robert E. Kahn, who played a pioneering role in the development of the Internet. Kahn has developed the concept of a digital object architecture to provide a framework for interoperability of heterogeneous information systems and is the co-inventor of Knowbot programmes – mobile software agents in the network environment.
  • Mark Krivocheev, best known for his pioneering work in forging a world television digital standard and for HDTV standards, which have made it possible for us to receive high quality sound and picture in our homes.
  • Ken Sakamura, who designed the TRON open computer system architecture, which will be useful for ubiquitous computing of the future, and helped produce a series of Recommendations, including ITU-T H.642 "Multimedia information access triggered by tag-based identification", which is a critical element as we move to the age of the Internet of Things and Big Data.
  • Thomas Wiegand, who has contributed significantly towards the standardization for multimedia and co-chaired for the development of the ITU-T H.264/MPEG-AVC video coding standard, which facilitates video streaming on mobile devices and was recognized with a Primetime Emmy Award from the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

ITU said Bill Gates will be given special recognition for his contributions and his ongoing work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Together with its 193 Member States and a membership of over 700 private sector entities and academic institution, ITU is the inter-governmental responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems.

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