With South Korea becoming the first country to "turn on" 5G at scale, now is the time to be looking to Asia to see what the US and Europe can learn from their innovations. In particular, the US and Europe have much to learn from the successful teamwork and collaboration on smart city projects in the Asian-Pacific.
Smarter devices and smarter technologies make for smarter cities. You only need to look to Asia to see the power of connected systems in action. Metropolitan centers like Singapore or Seoul not only collect and interpret data, but they integrate it into more efficiencies. Better yet, the region’s capitals are collaborating to create a network of integrated digital ecosystems.
The future is certainly bright for smart cities, and Asia is embracing the concept with a communal mentality. The region’s ability to adapt and integrate technology presents lessons to be learned for the rest of the world. From 5G connectivity to futuristic infrastructure, Asia shows how it wants to create the cities of tomorrow, today.
The State of the (Smart) City
There should be no doubt that cities need to be smarter with natural resources in greater demand and metropolitan centers growing globally. For example, about 75 percent of the world’s population is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050. This means that urban centers need to conserve energy and use infrastructure efficiently—two things offered by the Internet of Things (IoT).
The integration of smart sensors and data-gathering technology makes for urban centers that identify their weaknesses and improve over time, and Asia Pacific is leading investment in this area. Asia Pacific is predicted to lead global spending in IoT for 2019 with almost 40 percent of worldwide spend, followed by the United States and Western Europe. Furthermore, South Korea and Singapore are expected to be among the top five global markets for IoT adoption.
One-third of Asia Pacific’s total population lives in urban areas, and these areas generate two-thirds of the region’s gross domestic product. Urbanization fuels economic growth, but perhaps here more than anywhere else in the world, the sheer pace of city growth has resulted in surging populations, inadequate housing conditions, and generally poor infrastructure. There needs to be a better way, and Asia believes IoT holds the key.
A Team Effort
It is not just money that Asia has on its side. Overurbanisation is acutely felt across the region, and as such, there is a mentality of teamwork that exists from city to city and country to country. For example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations created the Smart Cities Network in 2018. This agreement between the 10-state body works toward the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development. Technology is the enabler, with clear results in Singapore.
The nation-state of Singapore leads cities like Berlin, Chicago and San Francisco in smart city technology due to its commitment to tech-friendly legislation and investment. While the lack of competing bureaucratic systems certainly helps, Singapore has demonstrated its belief in autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence with adequate backing. For example, sensor data from all buses has led to a 92 percent drop in crowding issues despite an annual increase to ridership. This is a tangible result of applied IoT data, and Singapore is happy to share such information with its neighbors.
A concept titled Digitally Twinned Smart Cities launched in May of 2019 as a pilot project between Singapore, Jakarta and Cauayan City in The Philippines. The three-city partnership allows its members to access digital replicas of each city, such as their assets, people, places, systems, and devices. The aim is to further understanding and insights between cities facing similar issues of food, energy, and economic development. One city may be smart on its own, but Asian governments seem to be aware that they are even smarter together.
Lastly, it speaks to the sheer breadth of smart city domination in Asia that we have not even mentioned South Korea—the first country to “turn on” 5G. South Koreans are one of the more tech-savvy populations on earth and have the distinction of being the first country in the world to have more things connected to the internet than people. It should go without saying that the South Korean government is also turning to smart city tech, but it is the bigger picture that impresses. It’s no longer about creating individual smart cities; it’s about creating a smart region.
Lessons to Be Learned
International and infrastructural cooperation is much easier said than done, so Asian smart city success is certainly something other governments should replicate. Time optimization, energy efficiency, and sustainable environments are all positives for the inhabitants of smart cities. Solid network infrastructures and technological innovations improve day-to-day life and ensure that cities, however crowded they may be, remain centers for economic growth.
This is not to say the rest of the world is sitting idly by. In fact, the smartest cities actually exist outside of Asia: London ranks in the second position globally, behind New York. However, the sharing and teamwork of countries across Asia must be noted by the rest of the world. Their willingness to trial new technologies gives them a head-start on the competition and their cooperation an ally in the smart city race.
Furthermore, Asian governments are rushing to sign tech agreements with the private sector. For example, Indonesia is working with Dassault Systèmes to develop the Padang Pariaman Smart City Implementation Project, while private sector firms from Japan and China will begin building a smart city in Thailand.
Each of these elements equates to a region getting smarter by the day. Asia shows the rest of the world that legislative commitment, budgetary allocation, and a regional alliance is the best recipe for the smartest possible city.