Smart Cities Broaden Emerging-Tech Boundaries

The smart city revolution is here—pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible in terms of sustainability, efficiency, and liveability—and the Asia-Pacific region is right at its epicentre.

Smart Cities Broaden Emerging-Tech Boundaries

by Alan Hartstein

Posted on 02-23-2019

This article is part of our March 2019 series about emerging technology. Click here for more.

From “Blade Runner” to “Minority Report,” Hollywood has long envisaged cities with a tangible digital awareness, where the city itself becomes part of a technological ecosystem, with people at the centre.

Well, fiction has become reality: The smart city revolution is here—pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible in terms of sustainability, efficiency, and liveability—and the Asia Pacific region is right at its epicentre. For brands, it represents new, exciting ways to reach their customers and new audiences.

Leadership Role

APAC, specifically, has been undergoing unprecedented urbanisation, as megacities grow and new urban centres spring up. By 2030, the number of megacities–those with 10 million or more people–is expected to number 43, and “some of the fastest-growing urban agglomerations are cities with fewer than 1 million inhabitants, many of them located in Asia, according to a United Nations publication.

So it’s little wonder the region is taking a global leadership role in the planning and trials for smart cities, where a combination of machine interconnectivity and data integration is being used to greatly improve the quality of citizens’ lives.

Indeed, global tech spending on smart city initiatives is forecast to reach $US158 billion by 2022, according to IDC, with APAC cities accounting for over 40% of that investment.

Some cities, generally classified as early adopters, are already using an array of smart technologies to improve quality-of-life indicators by 10% to 30%, leading to reductions in crime, commute times, and carbon emissions, according to a report about smart cities released last year by McKinsey Global Institute.

Three layers must be in harmony for these cities to work effectively, the report states. The first is the technology base–a critical mass of smartphones and sensors connected by high-speed communication networks. The second is specific applications and the ability to translate raw data into alerts, insight, and action using the right tools. The third layer is use by cities, companies, and the public.

“Many applications succeed only if they are widely adopted and manage to change behaviour,” the report states. “They encourage people to use transit during off-hours, to change routes, to use less energy and water and to do so at different times of day, and to reduce strains on the healthcare system through preventive self-care.”

Technologies Driving The Smart Revolution

One of the reasons APAC is making headway comes courtesy of the constant flow and embrace of emerging technologies that go into a smart city. For example, organisations across APAC spent a massive $US291.7 billion on Internet of Things-related products and services last year, with China accounting for 64% of that investment. At the same time, use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is gaining steam, powered by always-increasing volumes of data, while virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making their way into the mainstream.

5G networks will play a vital role in the development of smart-city infrastructure and furthering predictive decision-making, according to Geof Heydon, a digital economy consultant at Astrolabe Group, based in Sydney.

“Its ability to jump between fixed and mobile networks will allow it to process information from millions of sensors deployed with IoT or AI functions in a fraction of the time that other networks currently can,” he told

Andrew Birmingham, editor-in-chief of, a specialist business transformation news service, believes a mix of technologies will be required to transform urban landscapes further into smart cities.

“Analytics and the ability to disseminate vast amounts of data as quickly and efficiently as possible will be essential for anything to function productively,” he told “Artificial intelligence … will be vital, particularly in relation to things such as driverless cars. The potential for huge, wide-scale industrial implementation of artificial intelligence-related technology is limitless.”

Innovators in the region are already exploring the use of sensors, data analytics, and AI in urban environments. In Singapore, for example, lamp posts have been transformed into sensors, collecting a range of data on things such as temperature and wind speed. Some are even equipped with facial recognition technology.

Additionally, 43% of Singapore enterprises have already carried out IoT proofs of concept, according to a January report from Frost & Sullivan. The enterprises surveyed also said their overall business metrics had improved by over 12% after implementing IoT initiatives.

“Close to 40% of enterprises in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore have already embarked on their IoT journey and realised significant gains in their business performance,” said Spike Choo, Frost & Sullivan director of cognitive industries (IoT and AI), in the report.

However, for smart cities to function effectively, the right data architecture needs to be in place from the outset, Birmingham said.

“It’s a fundamental building block. If the data can’t be disseminated quickly or moved seamlessly, it will simply not be possible to do any of these other things,” he said. “Technology represents another evolution of society, but it also has plenty of potential downside if the right policies aren’t in place early.”

Brand Opportunities

So what does all this technological innovation mean for marketers? It certainly means staying on top of the most efficient way to reach customers in a rapidly evolving digital marketplace and being mindful that, with their regional quirks, no two smart cities are ever going to be the same.

One thing that won’t change is the desire of residents for the best available goods and services. Smart cities and their accompanying technology will offer unlimited opportunities for marketers and brands to personalise content and speak to customers directly.

Tools at a marketer’s disposal could include everything from smart signage and information kiosks, advertising on millions of out-of-home (OOH) and mobile devices strategically placed along streets and walkways, and a range of new social media and content-sharing apps designed to foster deeper customer relationships.

While much of this is still in the experimentation phase, the increased use of proximity technology–which incorporates data from beacons, drones, Wi-Fi hotspots, audio, and light sensors–will be available to create more complete customer profiles, allowing marketers and brands to offer unprecedented product and service personalisation and targeting capabilities.

One example of such a location data technology already in widespread use is Waze, which allows local advertisers to target drivers who venture close to their businesses with meaningful local ad experiences.

Bigger picture, the customer experience will be greatly enhanced by the sheer level of interconnectivity and the number of touch points and platforms available for data collection. In reality, this means a person walking by a billboard or other outdoor setting could receive a personalised message about a product or service.

But always remember: “A smart city is only as smart as its people and how enabled they are,” said Cat Matson, who, as chief digital officer for the City of Brisbane, is heavily involved with Brisbane’s smart city focus on open innovation. “You can have the best tech in the world doing stuff because it can, but at the end of the day it needs to benefit residents. It needs to benefit businesses and enable them to grow.”

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