Recent Advances in IoT and Smart Cities ITU-T Related Standards

Ramy Ahmed Fathy, PhD
Vice-Chair of ITU-T SG20
Co-Chair of WP1/20


The ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. Originally founded in 1865 to promote cooperation among international telegraphy networks of the day, the ITU is known for its long historical accomplishments in the domain of telecommunication standardization and radio regulations.

The ITU has three main areas of activities organized in ‘Sectors’ which work through conferences and meetings. The ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) coordinates radiocommunication services, and manages the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits related assignments and service allocations. The ITU’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T) is responsible of developing international standards (known as ITU-T Recommendations) which act as defining elements in the global infrastructure of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Finally, the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) fosters international cooperation and solidarity in the delivery of technical assistance and in the creation, development and improvement of telecommunication and ICT equipment and networks in developing countries [1]. 

Standards are critical to the interoperability of ICTs and ensure markets competitiveness. By developing a market led consensus based industry views, intertwined with views from academia, SMEs, and governments, the industry ensures that their products and systems conforming with ITU-T Recommendations can realize the maximum market adoption and regulatory compliance. On the other hand, adopting Recommendations by governments sort of presents some guarantees that standards conforming technologies can in a way alleviate issues related to vendors lock-in and the elevated costs of some elements in the technology stack. 

Caution must be exercised though, to select the standard that is backed up by the maximum number of industry supporters from different regions; as this in a way presents a thermometer of the degree of the technology evolution roadmap. Another important consideration is related to the interworking with other related standards, developed by other de facto and/or de jure organizations. The more the standardized system is designed to seamlessly integrate and interwork with other relevant standardized systems (even if they are developed by other standards developing organizations), the higher the chances that such a technology would be adopted by different markets.

In this article, a brief overview would be present on the ITU-T activities related to the advancement of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities and Communities related technologies. The standardization activities of the ITU-T is carried out by the technical Study Groups (SGs) in which members of the ITU-T develop Recommendations (standards) for the various fields of international telecommunications. Study Group 20 is responsible for studies relating to Internet of Things (IoT) and its applications, and Smart Cities and Communities (SC&C). This includes studies relating to big data aspects of IoT and SC&C, e‑services and smart services for SC&C [2].

IoT and Smart Cities and Communities Technologies’ Standardization

Study Group 20 is working to address the standardization requirements of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, with an initial focus on IoT applications in smart cities and communities (SC&C). SG20 develops international standards to enable the coordinated development of IoT technologies, including machine-to-machine communications, IoT platforms, and ubiquitous sensor networks. A central part of this study is the standardization of end-to-end architectures for IoT, and mechanisms for the interoperability of IoT applications and datasets employed by various vertically oriented industry sectors. The group is identified within the ITU-T as the lead study group that have a mandate on developing standards and other non-normative works on:

  • Internet of things (IoT) and its applications
  • Smart Cities and Communities (SC&C), including its e‑services and smart services
  • Internet of things identification

Notable industry reports have estimated that the number of IoT devices in some regions will pass the mark of 50 billion devices in less than a 5 years timeframe. Hence, there is a clear necessity to develop coherent standards across different relevant standards developing organizations, while focusing on aspects like interoperability, security, and interworking. 

To address these myriad technology concerns, SG20 has divided its activities into two Working Parties (WP) and seven Questions. WP1/20 is responsible of leading the collective standards development effort of four Questions, which deal with connectivity, interoperability, infrastructures, requirements, capabilities, and use cases across verticals. Additionally WP1/20 is also responsible of coordinating and directing standardization efforts related to architectures, protocols and e/Smart services, applications and supporting platforms. WP2/20 on the other hand focuses on leading the collective standards development effort of three Questions, which deal with research and emerging technologies, terminology and definitions, security, privacy, trust and identification for IoT and SC&C evaluation and assessment. Table 1 illustrates the current structure of SG20, as well as SG20 regional groups created to stimulate and develop synergies of IoT and SC&C relevant standards development activities conducted on a regional basis.

Table 1. ITU-T SG20 Structure and Key Responsibilities

Q1/20End to end connectivity, networks, interoperability, infrastructures and Big Data aspects related to IoT and SC&C 
Q2/20Requirements, capabilities, and use cases across verticals 
Q3/20Architectures, management, protocols and Quality of Service 
Q4/20e/Smart services, applications and supporting platforms 
Q5/20Research and emerging technologies, terminology and definitions 
Q6/20Security, privacy, trust and identification for IoT and SC&C 
Q7/20Evaluation and assessment of Smart Sustainable Cities and Communities 
Regional groups 
SG20RG-LATAMITU-T SG20 Regional Group for the Latin American Region 
SG20RG-EECATITU-T SG20 Regional Group for Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Transcaucasia 
SG20RG-ARBITU-T SG20 Regional Group for the Arab Region 
SG20RG-AFRITU-T SG20 Regional Group for the Africa Region 
Other groups under SG20
JCA-IoT and SC&CJoint Coordination Activity on Internet of Things and Smart Cities and Communities 

Recent Advances of Standardization Work of SG20

At its last meeting, held from 6-16 July 2020, SG20 has received a total of 95 contributions with 230 participants from all over the world. The group received a total of 46 incoming liaison statements and produced a total of 24 outgoing liaison statements from different standards developing organizations. 

The meeting produced a total of 12 approved Recommendations with the faster Alternative Approval Process (AAP). Additionally, the meeting determined that three other Recommendations were sufficiently mature and accordingly they were sent to the member states for consultations since they were perceived by the SG20 members to have policy and regulatory implications (the process of approving this Recommendation in such cases is called Traditional Approval Process – TAP). The meeting also approved the start of 19 new standardization project in different relevant topics as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. New Work Items

Working PartyQuestionRec/Tech.Rep./SupplTitle
WP1/202/20Recommendation​Requirements of IoT-based civil engineering infrastructure health monitoring system
WP1/202/20RecommendationRequirements and capability framework of smart shopping mall
WP1/202/20RecommendationService requirements and capability framework of IoT-related crowdsourced systems
WP1/202/20SupplementUse cases of IoT based smart agriculture
WP1/203/20​RecommendationData format requirements and protocols for remote data collection in smart metering systems
WP1/203/20​RecommendationIoT Service Management API REST Specification
WP1/203/20​RecommendationIoT Device Management API REST Specification
WP1/204/20RecommendationRequirements and reference architecture of smart service for public health emergency
WP1/204/20RecommendationFramework for data middle-platform in IoT and smart sustainable cities
WP1/204/20RecommendationRequirements and functional architecture of smart sharing bicycle service
WP1/204/20RecommendationRequirements and reference architecture of IoT and smart city & community service based on federated machine learning
WP1/204/20RecommendationRequirements and functional architecture of smart power bank rental service
WP1/204/20RecommendationRequirements and functional architecture of smart door lock service
WP1/204/20RecommendationVocabulary for blockchain for supporting Internet of things and smart cities and communities in data processing and management aspects
WP2/206/20RecommendationReference framework of cybersecurity risk management of IoT ecosystems on smart cities
WP2/206/20Technical ReportIntelligent Anomaly Detection System for IoT
WP2/20​7/20​RecommendationSensing quality assessment framework of IoT systems​
WP2/207/20​​Recommendation​A Methodology for Next Generation Urban Measurements
WP2/207/20​SupplementUse Cases for Next Generation Urban Measurements


[1], fetched at the time of preparing this article.

[2], fetched at the time of preparing this article.

Dr. Ramy Ahmed Fathy, PhD 

Vice Chairman of ITU-T SG20 on IoT and its Applications including Smart Cities and Communities, Geneva, Switzerland 

Ramy Ahmed Fathy is a senior telecom executive and advisor, with 20 years of technical advisory and project leaderships in tech R&D space focusing on intelligent solutions, and embedded systems design. Ramy is currently leading teams focusing on developing AI solutions and use cases for regulatory agencies, preparing technology strategy and roadmaps as well as leading R&D and industrial projects related to new digital initiatives, setting architectures, specifications, RFPs, and operational plans of digital services. 

Fathy is currently leading 150+ international standardization experts; driving research and standards development in IoT security, identification, systems interoperability, innovative architectures, and IoT platforms development. Over the past decade, he has been selected as a senior advisor on digital solutions design and implementation for a wide range of digital services (smart cities, smart water management, precision agriculture, digital TV, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for highways and urban systems). 

Fathy has a PhD in electronics and communications. He has led R&D projects in radio network planning and optimization, cognitive radio systems, video coding, cryptography, DSP/FPGA/GPP based implementations of consumer electronics products and satellite communication systems. He has numerous publications and contributions in IoT and Smart Cities related standardization work in addition to other scientific journals and conferences, and he’s the co-author of one book in electronics.

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