Middle East cities get smart as information becomes the fourth utility

Smart cities are becoming a reality in the Middle East

Tags: Fibre optic cableOrange Business ServicesSmart cities
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Middle East cities get smart as information becomes the fourth utility Smart cities help address the challenges of modern, urban environments, says Reina. (ITP images)
By  Lionel Reina Published  November 24, 2010

Across the Middle East and North Africa, large scale state-of-the-art urban centres and cities that are smarter, healthier, greener, and sustainable are rising out of the sands. New cities hold the key to widespread economic and cultural development that will support the delivery of the visionary goals set by governments and MENA is perfectly suited to this, given its rapid economic expansion and diversification - and all with the benefits of green field sites and no overhanging legacies to hold them back.

From simple campus implementations, all the way through to large urban conurbations, new developments require an entirely new level of sophistication to attract tenants and meet the region's socio-economic aspirations.

ICT is an enabler for these new economies and to work effectively, it must be embedded in the framework of a modern city. ‘Information infrastructure' must now be viewed as the fourth utility, complementing water, power, and gas. Today's property developers cannot afford to ignore these significant advances in city technology.

Smart cities work smarter, not harder

Modern communication networks touch every part of a smart city's operation, from transportation through to distribution of goods and services, entertainment, information and communications - even crime-fighting and emergency response.

The technological advancements underpinning smart cities make them economically desirable for real estate developers and also help to solve a variety of significant social and economic challenges, including increased urbanization, depleting natural resources, and inadequacies in existing infrastructure. The efficiencies delivered by technology make it possible for smart cities to enjoy savings in energy and water management - both of increasing importance in the region.

Smart cities can help address a key issue facing the world today - how to have a more environmentally-friendly urban infrastructure that is economically efficient, whilst also improving the quality of life of its residents including community interaction, healthcare services, education and learning opportunities, the delivery and consumption of public and civic services, and energy management and conservation.

Real estate developers may be aware of the transforming potential of technology but they will still be focused on their core business. So, a third party specialist has to handle the information and communications technology (ICT) aspect of the smart city.

The key is to build up a smart city's intelligence in layers, starting with the underlying fibre optic network infrastructure and residential services using fast broadband and wireless connectivity that will support advanced applications from IPTV to IP telephony and telepresence to M2M communications. The next step is to design and implement solutions for specific activities such as building management, healthcare and traffic management.

Intelligent buildings are energy efficient and understand how to manage lighting, heating and air conditioning systems appropriately, which needs a robust telecommunications backbone incorporating wireless and security functionalities.

Infrastructural and public services including e-government, e-health, e-education, and e-utilities systems can be configured more efficiently using technology embodied in the underlying layers. Information can be fed through a variety of different channels through to centralized systems to provide real-time analytics that can better support citizens.

Smart cities - today

Across the Middle East, smart city concepts are already being adopted to make life better for their citizens, especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The King Abdullah Economic City in Jeddah will include an advanced network infrastructure designed to deliver a range of advanced services, supporting residential areas, a seaport, and an industrial zone.

In Riyadh, the Information Technology Communications Complex (ITCC), a $1.65 billion development including research relevant buildings, business technology incubators, and a luxury residential complex, will incorporate a huge fiber-optic cable network to provide super-high speed broadband, serving advanced digital applications to a collection of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient towers.

From Orange Business Service's global perspective, we can say that MENA is truly in the vanguard of smart city developments and the result will be cities that are smarter, greener, and sustainable, because they are built on the cutting edge technological infrastructure that puts the smart into the modern city - the fourth utility.

Lionel Reina is VP for EEMEA for Orange Business Services.

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