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Asia Pacific’s smart cities are connected, open, cashless

November 8, 2018
While developments differ widely in assets and strategies, urban centers across the region are pursuing digital initiatives to address common challenges.

The “Connectivity and QoL” report series examines how digital consumer habits and ubiquitous technology are driving smart city development in the Asia-Pacific region.

Each of the Asia-Pacific economies approaches smart city development with a unique mix of policies and “natural resources”—technology sector talent, existing industry clusters, and communications and Internet infrastructure assets.

While no two Asia-Pacific markets have the exact same mix of strategies and assets, most of the planners and enterprises profiled in the “Connectivity and QoL” report series are working to achieve two sets of goals simultaneously: addressing immediate infrastructure or service delivery challenges while “future-proofing” for challenges on the horizon. Asia’s most innovative smart city efforts also open themselves up to collaboration with the private sector, both to build the enabling platforms and to create potentially exportable technologies and applications.

No two markets in Asia Pacific have planners and enterprises employing the exact same mix of strategies and assets.

Comparing smart city initiatives across the region, several significant common themes emerge when it comes to specific technology areas, businesses, and collaboration models:

  • Leveraging the cloud: ITC infrastructure that enables fast and cost-effective application development is an essential foundation for smart cities. Mainland China and Hong Kong have long invested in cloud platforms, and India is fast joining them in support of its massive IT-enabled service economy.
  • Creating “open” ecosystems: Sydney, Australia, has been a leader in the promotion of public data as a common resource for smart city developers, as has Singapore. Other markets with considerable indigenous IT and digital device industries, such as Taiwan and South Korea, promote development efforts around open-source technologies to speed up interoperability in IoT or security management. All these strategies harness the power of startup clusters and established firms, and innovators from multiple disciplines, to accelerate smart city innovation.
  • Consumer-driven application development: Creating open “sandbox” environments is a key to creating and prototyping applications that a city’s residents would actually find useful. Many of these will involve the augmenting of existing services like public transportation “powered” by advertising, and the data collected in that process: “We are deploying 100 Uber-like autonomous vehicles in Dubai for the Road Transportation Authority,” says Paul Doherty, President and CEO of smart city solutions firm The Digit Group, whose team has determined that “the demographic data alone allows for sufficiently precise targeted marketing in those vehicles to be profitable enough to offer the transportation service for free.”
  • Mixing “greenfield” and “brownfield” experiments: Centrally planned economies in the Asia Pacific, China chief among them, often have the luxury of building smart cities from scratch. Others, notably Japan and Korea, have seen private-public partnerships emerge to create new, “purposely smart” suburban developments, and to experiment with new technologies and revenue models for delivering such services as health care and transportation. These efforts rarely take place in isolation; infrastructure in different existing urban centers is repurposed or enhanced with smart technology simultaneously to achieve immediate consumer benefit.
  • IoT and sensor-based platforms: Here, both established technology and device exporters (chiefly Korea, Japan, and Taiwan) and economies seeking to transform the efficiency of public utilities (China, Singapore, and Australia) are investing heavily in sensor- and device-based management to detect leaks, theft, or security breaches. In so doing, they are creating a deeper fabric of data that will eventually facilitate better, more personalized services for all consumers.
  • Cashless economies: Efforts to migrate transaction payment to mobile platforms or frictionless card- or chip-based applications are emerging in Singapore, Taiwan, and India and are growing particularly fast in China, driven by pervasive and powerful social media applications like WeChat. Beyond the efficiencies that cashless payments create in accessing smart city services, digitizing transactions generates consumer data that is key to the virtuous cycle of the value exchange characteristic of smart cities.

Top image credit: Valerii Matviienko