Nº 4 2015 > Anniversary celebrations

ITU’s 150th Anniversary Celebration

His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain gives a speech during a special ceremony held on 5 May at the Senate in Madrid to commemorate ITU’s 150th AnniversMartin Cooper, Robert E. Kahn, Mark Krivocheev, Houlin Zhao, Ken Sakamura, Thomas Wiegand
His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain gives a speech during a special ceremony held on 5 May at the Senate in Madrid to commemorate ITU’s 150th Anniversary
Martin Cooper, Robert E. Kahn, Mark Krivocheev, Houlin Zhao, Ken Sakamura, Thomas Wiegand

ITU celebrated its 150th Anniversary on 17 May 2015, with a glittering Awards Ceremony commemorating its long and distinguished history fostering innovation in information and communication technologies (ICTs). ITU was established on 17 May 1865 with the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in Paris to facilitate the transmission of telegraphy across international borders through the coordination of the telegraph system, development of international standards and the exchange of information relating to telegraphic systems.

The 150th Anniversary celebration united nearly 1000 invitees from ITU Member States, Sector Members, Associates and Academia to show their support for the principles embodied by ITU in a celebration of the Union’s illustrious history as the oldest UN organization in existence. The anniversary ceremony included interactive demonstrations, the announcement of the Laureates of the ITU 150 Awards, and video expressions of support from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki‑moon, and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.

In his video message, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon commended ITU’s many contributions as the oldest member in the United Nations system. “ITU has earned its global reputation for resilience and relevance”, he stated, noting that “the digital revolution has transformed our world. New information and communication technologies can help boost the economy and protect the environment”.

In his Welcome Address, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao observed that, “throughout our 150‑year history, ITU has promoted international cooperation, working to achieve practical solutions to integrate new communication technologies as they develop, spreading their benefits to all”. Mr Zhao warmly thanked the sponsors of the 150th Anniversary for their generosity.

H. E. Doris Leuthard, Switzerland’s Minister of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, delivered the Keynote Speech on behalf of the host country. She observed that only less than half the world’s population is connected to the Internet, and that everyone on Earth should be connected. She expressed Switzerland’s active and continued support for ITU.

ITU 150th Anniversary Awards

The ITU 150 Awards were presented to eminent Laureates who have contributed to ITU’s work:

Martin Cooper is a pioneer in wireless communications, often referred to as the ’father’ of portable cellular telephony, who conceived the first portable cellular phone in 1973. Mr Cooper stated that in 1973, he “anticipated that mobile telephony would become pervasive, but could never have anticipated the modern telephone”. He envisages that “in future, technology should be invisible, with more customization of technology”.

Robert E. Kahn played a pioneering role in the development of the Internet, and has developed the concept of digital object architecture (DOA) as a framework for interoperability of heterogeneous information systems. In his intervention, Mr Kahn noted that change is de rigeur as part of the ever-accelerating trend in the growth of the Internet. He underlined the need for long-term interoperability of different systems.

Mark Krivocheev is widely known for his pioneering work in forging digital TV and high-definition television (HDTV) standards for providing high-quality sound and pictures. He described the challenges and vital importance of global standards to reflect common interest, and commended ITU’s HDTV work. The next step will be the development of multiscreen TV broadcasting, and ITU is now looking at ultra high-definition TV.

Ken Sakamura designed the TRON open computer system architecture, which will be useful for ubiquitous computing of the future. He also helped produce many ITU Recommendations, including ITU–T H.642, “Multimedia information access triggered by tag-based identification”. Mr Sakamura envisions a future in which an innovative ubiquitous computing infrastructure will be needed, but noted that it is difficult to predict the new and marvellous services coming up next.

Thomas Wiegand co-chaired the development of ITU–T H.264/MPEG‑AVC (recognized with a Primetime Emmy Award from the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences) and ITU–T H.265 HEVC video coding standards, facilitating video streaming on mobile devices. In his intervention, Mr Wiegand stated that we are just at the beginning of the second wave of digitization in this world. However, he sounded a note of warning — technology needs to be managed effectively for the good of society, with safeguards put in place against any negative aspects.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, was given special recognition for his contributions and ongoing work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He called for ITU to play a central role in technical standardization in the financial services sector, by improving quality and providing better coordination between telecom authorities and financial services regulators to bring the poor into the global economy with expanded access to financial services.

ITU’s long-standing members

ITU also commended the ITU founding Member States, which signed the original convention in 1865: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. Certificates were presented to ITU’s long-standing industry members in honour of their work and contributions, such as Cable & Wireless, which joined ITU way back in 1871. Certificates were presented to Telecom Italia (a member since 1925), Exelis and Telefónica (since 1929), and Sirti (since 1931), among others.

Panel discussion

A second panel discussion on ICTs as drivers of a sustainable future was moderated by BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes, and brought in key thinkers and doers in ICT: Philip Walton, COO, BRCK; Luis Von Ahn, CEO & founder, DuoLingo; Gabriela Styf Sjöman, CTO, Telecom Italia Group; Jian Wang, CTO, Alibaba; and Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO, Ericsson. Among other matters, the panel focused on the important role of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the rapidly evolving ICT landscape.

Global celebrations

The ITU 150th Anniversary was marked by celebrations in some 50 countries around the world, including a special ceremony held in Paris in the original room where the first International Telegraph Convention on 17 May 1865 was signed, and another held in Madrid, attended by King Felipe VI of Spain. Looking towards the future as the leading UN specialized agency for telecommunications and ICT, ITU is committed to driving innovation in partnership with the Union’s 193 Member States and membership of over 700 private sector entities and academic institutions.

Digital resources

For more information, including access to the webcast and a map showing worldwide celebratory events, see: http://itu150.org/


Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

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