The building blocks of smart cities

  • How we handle data will prove important into making cities more liveable
  • The foundation begins with technology and the baseline infrastructure that supports it


The building blocks of smart cities


IN DISCUSSIONS surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0), you can’t avoid talking about the concept of Smart Cities. If there’s something that we can take away from a special session hosted by Ernst & Young (EY) during Perdana Leadership Foundation’s CEO Forum 2019, it’s that IR4.0 can’t be achieved in a nation without making headway into building smart cities.

Smart cities are important, of course, because cities are important. As pointed out by EY LLP Advisory Partner and Smart City Technologies leader Vikas Aggarval, one of the panellists in EY session, cities around the world are growing fast.

Global urban population is set to increase by about 2.5 billion people between 2014 and 2050. People are undoubtedly flocking to cities for better livelihoods, and this means both opportunities and risks for businesses, governments and society at large.

How we make our cities a better place for people is a primary challenge, and for this, Vikas says that technology is a tool that we can capitalise on to turn a city into not just a liveable space, but one that goes beyond just providing food, water and facilities.

Exemplary city

During the session, Vikas explained how the city of Seoul, South Korea, used technology to tackle the issues stemming from its growing population. Seoul is home to 10 million people, which would’ve undoubtedly led to a multitude of challenges, including how to move its people around effectively.

One way Seoul handles this problem is to utilise data. City workers in Seoul use it to understand and transform how the city can be run, particularly its metro system. For instance, data is gathered at the city’s metro stations using everything from the payment systems to smart cameras that help the stations plan transport schedules and divert workers where need be.

The speed and frequency of the trains are constantly adjusted to keep everything running smoothly, while sensors on the trains and tracks can help provide early maintenance warnings and avoid costly breakdowns.

These data are all fed back to the city’s Transport, Operation and Information Service (Topis), which handles not just subway data, but also data from buses, taxis and roads. The goal in Topis is to use the data to anticipate problems and stop congestion from building up.

“One of the key components of a smart city is that it’s ubiquitous,” says EY APAC Advisory IoT leader Jeffrey Feldman, another panellist. “Smart city is not about separatism at all – we’re seeing convergence of smart capabilities and smart experiences.”

For Feldman, while cities certainly have to leverage on data in order to be a smart city, they don’t necessarily have to build its data-gathering capability to start – governments and other entities can, for one, use data that are already existing today, through partnerships with telcos and other high-tech companies.

The building blocks


The building blocks of smart cities


How’s Malaysia coming along with its plans towards smart cities? Malaysia Communication and Multimedia Commission chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak (pic, above) assures us that efforts are underway. Speaking as a panellist, he says that the nation’s priority now is to have the baseline infrastructure laid out.

This begins with the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP), a nationwide effort to further develop fibre optic infrastructure and provide fast internet connectivity to everyone. Last year, the government had allocated RM1 billion for the Plan under Budget 2019.

Ensuring access to fast internet is important, as – according to Al-Ishsal  – only 40% of our telecommunications towers are fiberised, which means that a number of citizens do not get access to 4G connectivity.

“Without these infrastructure, we cannot fully achieve the opportunities generated across the economy,” he says.

The technology to help significantly, Al-Ishsal notes, would be 5G. The latest generation in cellular mobile communications will be able to provide the faster speeds and more reliable connections to serve as the building blocks

“It [5G] is the underlying platform – the catalyst in order to achieve our goal towards smart cities,” he says, and points towards the upcoming Malaysia 5G Showcase in Putrajaya on April 18-21 as a preview to what 5G can achieve once the nation rolls it out over the next few years

Al-Ishsal later defined the seven key goals the NFCP wants to achieve that supports the development of smart cities:

  1. To have entry level fixed broadband package at 1% of GNI by 2020
  2. Gigabits availability in selected industrial areas by 2020, and all state capitals by 2023
  3. 100% availability for premises in State Capitals and several high impact areas with a minimum speed of 500Mbps by 2021
  4. 20% availability for premises in sub-urban and rural areas with up to 500Mbps by 2022
  5. Fiber network passes 70% of schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations, and post offices by 2022
  6. Average speeds of 30Mbps in 98% of populated areas by 2023
  7. Improving mobile coverage along Pan Borneo highway upon completion

“Fundamentally, the role is to ensure infrastructure is in place at the right quality and at affordable prices,” Al-Ishsal  says.

“That is the goal of the government, but we cannot do this alone. It is only by working with partners, our licensees, telcos and other players both local and foreign that we can achieve this target.”

The risks to consider

During the panel session, EY Services Sdn Bhd Advisory Partner and Malaysia Cybersecurity leader Jason Yuen spoke about the concerns and risks to think about in the advent of smart cities. He expressed worry about massive amount of data that smart cities will inevitably collect.

“When we start capturing physical activities and biometrics data that identifies who we are, these are actually sensitive information,” he says. “When it comes to sensitive personal data, we need to look at how we capture this data and how we secure them, and limitations to what we can use these data for.”

The key factor to consider here, he adds, is regulation. Yuen says that with 5G connectivity coming, the sheer amount of data generated can be staggering. What if, however, someone with malicious intent gains access to these data?

On the topic of autonomous vehicles, which would be a component of a smart city, Yuen says we need to think about the responsibilities that need to be in place. “What is the role of the manufacturer? How do you ensure that the safety systems in these vehicles can’t be turned off?” he asks.

“To conclude, in the future, perhaps with great connectivity, we need to have great responsibilities.”


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