As the world reels from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) insists that harmonious global standards will be vital for the continuous development of mobile technology

Around the world, collaboration between governments and communications companies have been at the heart of national and international responses to the coronavirus pandemic. From social distancing and contact tracing apps, to telemedicine and remote schooling, joint action between the private and public sector has been key to containing the virus and ensuring the continuation of businesses and public life.
This, of course, has been no easy task, but stakeholders have been able to pivot so successfully in part due to the resilience and universality of global communications standards. But, with the telecoms world in turmoil not only from the effects of the pandemic but also from increasing political interference, harmonised mobile standards themselves may soon be in jeopardy. Indeed, some analysts believe that the latest political tensions could lead to the fragmentation of the “single global standard” altogether.
For the ITU, this breakdown would spell disaster for the rapid development of the global telecoms industry. For them, effective connectivity rests upon three interconnected pillars: global standards, national policies, and international cooperation.
The importance of harmonious global standards for mobile communications is, to some extent, self-evident – we need only look at the drastically different adoption rates for 1G and 2G technologies, which suffered from fragmented regulation, compared to 3G and 4G to know the truth of this.
“Looking back at the evolution of international mobile telecommunications, or IMT as we call it, we see that the astonishing growth of mobile networks was greatly due to the standardisation of the third and fourth generation of mobile systems, or 3G and 4G,” said Mario Maniewicz, director of the radiocommunication bureau at the ITU, speaking at Huawei’s Better World Summit 2020. 
But this harmonisation of global standards may in fact be even more integral to the upcoming 5G networks, which bring with them a wealth of new technologies, such as the IoT, AI, and edge computing. Much more than just faster connectivity, 5G tech is set to revolutionise industry and even facilitate entirely new mediums of experience in the form of virtual and augmented reality. Innovation in 5G needs nurturing by a unified international telecoms community if it is to rapidly develop effectively and be deployed at scale. 
The ITU, of course, is at the heart of this process. Every four years, the ITU hosts the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), at which its Radio Regulations are discussed and revised; in 2019, at the end of the last four-year study cycle, the WRC, attended by representatives from 163 member states and 129 observer organisations, identified additional mmWave spectrum for use in 5G. In addition, the end of this year should see the completion of the International Mobile Telecommunications-2020 Standard, which will rapidly accelerate the deployment of 5G internationally.
Governments will play a crucial role in this process, with their policies directly creating the national environment in which technological evolution can flourish or flounder. For the ITU, this is particularly true when it comes to spectrum regulation, where governments must ensure equitable, efficient, and economical spectrum usage if the sector is to develop effectively.
“National regulatory authorities and policy makers still have a huge role to play,” explained Maniewicz. “Administrations need to revise their national regulations and standards to comply with international regulations and global standards; they need to assign suitable frequency bands to meet their domestic needs, and ensure spectrum is being used efficiently.”
Both developing global international standards and national regulation are underpinned by a theme that extends beyond the telecommunications sector itself: international cooperation. The ITU’s purpose is to bring nations together to help create a healthy communications ecosystem that serves everyone. Harmonising standards and frequency bands around the world allows new technologies and services to be developed in an already thriving ecosystem, enables international roaming, and helps everyone benefit from economies of scale – all of which is more important than ever in the emerging post-COVID-19 environment.
For the ITU, collaboration is at the heart of global telecoms success and the coming months will be vital in defining the future of this vital industry.
“I invite you to participate in the work of the ITU, to develop standards and regulations that will shape the future of radiocommunications and the recovery of our economies within a framework of international cooperation,” concluded Maniewicz.
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