[Analytics] 2020 will be the year of making smart cities sustainable

A participant experiences virtual archery with the aid of VR technology at the Smart City Summit & Expo in Taipei, China on March 27, 2018. [Photo/VCG]. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.


With half of the people in ASEAN already living in urban areas, governments in the region are increasingly looking to establish smart cities to make cities more livable, and offer new services and economic opportunities. Case in point: 26 cities across ASEAN are currently piloting smart cities projects, as part of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) initiative. Although the specific action plans for each city might differ, we foresee the following trends shaping the future of smart cities in the region. Mark Micallef specially for The Business Times.

5G is fast becoming a reality, with Asia Pacific leading the 5G race in terms of deployment and adoption. South Korea was the first in the world to launch commercial 5G networks last year, followed closely by China, and other countries such as Japan and Australia will do the same this year. Telcos in ASEAN will soon follow suit, with Singapore expected to kickstart 5G deployment in the region this year, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand. As a result, management consulting firm Kearney predicts the number of 5G subscriptions in ASEAN to exceed 200 million in 2025.

The expansion of 5G technology is one of the keys to smart city development. With its ultra-low latency, high bandwidth network, 5G will allow data gathered by IoT applications to be transmitted in real-time to central monitoring locations or other connected devices in smart cities. Malaysia’s Langkawi, for example, has deployed a smart signal system that uses high-definition videos and AI to identify traffic situations.

The system collects data on traffic patterns – such as the number of vehicles, wait times, drivers’ behavior when the weather changes – from connected traffic lights, and uses machine learning to reduce the waiting time at an intersection and improve traffic congestion. Transmitting high-definition videos from the traffic lights to the control center usually requires large bandwidth. With 5G, the transmission time is significantly reduced, enabling the control center to make real-time decisions for better traffic management.

5G on its own is not a game-changer. However, it will fuel the development and deployment of IoT applications in smart cities, especially those that are unmanned and inherently intolerant of latencies like autonomous cars, traffic safety controls, and smart grids. As IoT applications take off, companies collecting and using data generated from those devices will need to secure it. For this, we believe that as the smart city ecosystem continues to develop, data will be encapsulated with its own secure, intelligent model that dictates where and how it can be used.

As building a smart city is a major undertaking, smart and sustainable urban development requires a collaborative approach from the government, private sector, consumers, and even between cities globally for it to be successful. This calls for open data platforms, which open up the public data collected from IoT devices in a way that is at once readily accessible and securely controlled. Such platforms do so by being able to support multiple data types and structures (such as telemetry, videos, audio), scale to match growth in data, process and store data, and readily disseminate the resulting intelligence to the relevant connected devices and stakeholders.

Take the case of Singapore, whose Smart Nation rests on an open data ecosystem, for instance. By making data sets gathered by government agencies publicly available and accessible through online portals, it allows residents and businesses to co-create smart city applications that respond to the needs of the people more effectively. To date, more than 40 mobile apps and services have been developed to address resident’s land transport needs based on the data provided by the Land Transport Authority.

Open data portals will also be key to helping ASEAN cities work together towards the common goal of developing smart and sustainable urban development. The portals will help cities innovate quickly while using the millions of ties they have to address the evolving impact of emerging technologies, and also empower cities to meet equity goals and expand mobility services into rural and underserved areas. Open data specifications encourage collaboration in smart ways – and cities will continue to leverage best practices in open source to provide the best services they possibly can.

Asia Pacific is very much propelling the global economy, accounting for more than 60 percent of economic growth worldwide. Zooming in to ASEAN, the region accounts for 10 percent of that growth. However, that growth might have come at a high cost of a deteriorating environment. Case in point: The United Nation (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) found that ASEAN is not making much progress in terms of taking action to combat climate change and its impact.

We believe that carbonomics will play a huge role next year as the region continues building smart cities.

Carbonomics is when cities leverage their carbon footprint as a type of currency to encourage human life and reduce our carbon footprint. Although some cities are already making efforts to change their carbon footprint, progress has been incremental. Becoming truly carbon-neutral by 2050 will require us to start making radical changes.

For instance, ride-hailing companies Gojek and Grab are testing out as many as 300 electric motorbikes in Indonesia to find out how much energy those electric vehicles can save as compared to traditional motorcycles. While this is a commendable move, it could be more impactful if the ride-hailing apps show how much carbon the different types of cars (e.g. a diesel-run vehicle versus an electric car) emits for a trip to encourage consumers to select the eco-friendlier choice.

In sum, ASEAN cities need to encourage businesses to leverage data from IoT devices and analytics to bring visibility to consumers about the choices they make and how that affects their overall carbon footprint. Only by doing so will ASEAN cities be able to provide a sustainable, healthy and vibrant environment for citizens to operate in.

The writer is vice president of Asia Pacific and Japan, at Cloudera

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