ETSI in a changing world – Looking ahead

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of DIGITAL SME nor constitute the endorsement of the candidate.

DIGITAL SME encourages an open debate around the election of the future Director General of ETSI. Other views and contributions are welcomed and can be shared at

By Jan Ellsberger, ETSI Director General candidate

* ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) is one of the three recognised European Standardisation Organisations. Its present Director General’s term of office will expire in June 2024, and in this context new candidates are being sought. The ETSI General Assembly will make the formal appointment on 16th April 2024. This third-party op-ed is hosted by the European DIGITAL SME Alliance towards the promotion of an open and democratic electoral process, with no intent to pre-empt the work of the selection committee. The views expressed are those of the author only. Other views are welcomed and can be shared at

ETSI has well served the interests of European industry and policy makers – with remarkable success stories such as the globalisation of GSM, the creation of 3GPP, DECT, and Smart Cards. However, one cannot live on old merits. With the ever-changing ICT industry, recent geopolitical developments and last but not least the new EU Standardisation Strategy, ETSI must adapt to the realities of its time to remain relevant and to continue being an integral part of the European Standardisation System. It starts with a new leadership.

From old successes to new challenges

In 1987, the European Commission issued a Green Paper on the Development of the Common Market for Telecommunication Services and Equipment (COM(87) 290 final) which proposed to liberalize and harmonize the telecommunications market within the EU. The Green Paper recognised that the ‘inevitable trend’ towards ‘the convergence of telecommunications, computing, and applications of electronics in general’ called for the rapid creation of common standards at the European level and proposed to establish a new standardisation body based on the cooperation between CEPT and CEN/CENELEC. In response to the proposal, ETSI was established by CEPT in 1988. To enable the rapid development of standards, CEPT decided to allow direct participation of the European industry in the work of ETSI rather than following the CEN/CENELEC model of representation through national delegations headed by the national standards body. Driven by the UK Administration the model was enhanced to allow participation and influence also from non-European stakeholders. It paved the way for the global success of GSM, followed by the creation of 3GPP, oneM2M and the Smart Card Platform to mention a few – which have all well served European interests.

Yet, technological advancements, the role of ICT in the digitalisation of our industries and society, changes in the geopolitical landscape, and e.g. the recent EU Standardisation Strategy, require ETSI to adapt to remain a relevant and integral part of the European Standardisation System. It requires ETSI to invite the participation from additional stakeholders and industry sectors, and to pro-actively work in support of policies and legislation for new enabling technologies and domains, such as e.g. AI, data sharing, and cybersecurity. The recent EU Standardisation Strategy has led to the implementation of governance changes in ETSI, but more work is needed to address other aspects of the strategy – such as finding new ways of involving SMEs and users, education & training, and to strengthen the connection between innovation and standardisation.

Looking ahead

SMEs are of specific importance in that regard. ETSI’s particular industry-led approach can only be considered successful when reflective of the interests of the majority of companies. With SMEs representing 99% of businesses across the European Union, their effective participation in standardisation bodies is crucial in order to attain better standard suitability. SMEs can then develop innovative products and services on the basis of these standardised technologies, and benefit customers downstream. While ETSI has advanced in a positive direction in terms of inclusiveness, further work needs to be completed in the coming years.

Beyond inclusiveness, ETSI needs to further strengthen its leadership on up-to-date industry insights in order to remain at the forefront of technology developments. Over the last 8 months, I have been very active in developing an ambitious program for ETSI. I have so far worked with more than 50 ETSI members across all membership categories and organisational sizes, to develop a program on where to take ETSI in the coming 5 years. The program, which I will continuously update based on changes in the industry ecosystem, currently covers the following key themes:

  • Horizontal Standards: ICT systems provide a horizontal platform for the digitalisation of our industries by making use of enabling technologies beyond connectivity such as e.g. AI, data sharing, cybersecurity. Europe and other regions are currently formulating corresponding regulatory frameworks. It calls for a joint effort across different industries to drive global technology alignment and standardisation. ETSI is well positioned to actively contribute to this effort, including taking a pro-active role and work closely with European policy makers in support of related policy objectives.
  • International Standards: ETSI is, since long, well established as a platform for global technology alignment which has served European industry and interests well. ETSI should build on its international participation and expand its impact by initiating collaboration with interested parties in for example Middle East and Southeast Asia, in addition to the already established collaboration with the current non-European members. ETSI should also strengthen its collaboration with ISO, IEC and ITU. However, ETSI should ensure that its work is aligned with European values and policy frameworks.
  • European Standards: European Standards are growing in importance as an integral tool of the European Single Market. ETSI must fully embrace the EU Standardisation Strategy and strengthen its role in the European Standardisation System through pro-active engagement with European policy makers (EU, EEA, CEPT).
  • Innovation: The connection between research and standardisation must be strengthened. The European standardisation strategy emphasises the potential of EU-funded research to valorise innovation projects through standardisation activities and anticipate early standardisation needs. ETSI should continue and strengthen the already established links with research programs to facilitate an easy transfer of key research results into standardisation. This would help guide the ETSI membership in identifying and prioritising standardisation work, and at the same time guide the research community on current industry challenges. This will also strengthen the role of SMEs, since SMEs are among the main contributors to funded research. ETSI has recently taken a step in this direction by initiating collaboration with EU funded 6G research, but the effort should be enhanced to include also other technology areas within the scope of ETSI, such as connected and automated mobility, AI, data sharing, and cyber security.
  • ETSI staff: The ETSI secretariat staff is a key asset to the members, and a pre-requisite for the success of ETSI. The staff must be strongly motivated and its competence continuously developed, and the ETSI corporate culture should be characterised by transformation and an agile style of working. This is vital for ETSI’s role as world-class standards producer.
  • Environment and Society: ETSI is developing standards used to monitor, mitigate and adapt to climate change. ETSI’s own operations have in themselves an environmental impact and ETSI should systematically integrate sustainability across them. For example, ETSI could offset operational emissions via emission trading schemes, assess and limit its power consumption, provide services estimating delegates’ environmental impact. ETSI’s work has a direct impact on our society and its work should be better publicly known in a transparent way.


My mission is to continue developing this program together with all ETSI members. If ETSI wants to live up to its mission of developing and promoting world-class standards for ICT systems used globally for the benefit of all, change must be initiated. It was with great honour that, 8 months ago, I was contacted by a group of ETSI members to be the initiator of such change by entering the running for next Director General. I look forward to meeting an increasing number of members to collectively discuss how to best prepare and strengthen ETSI for the times ahead.


Jan Ellsberger has over 30 years of experience in standardisation, with leading roles across the telecoms, automotive, transportation and manufacturing industries. He has worked to support ETSI throughout his career and has been working directly for ETSI for more than 10 years.