T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
MUSCAT, MAR ch 24 –
Call it by any name: cyberville, intelligent city, digital city, e-community, flexicity, information city, knowledge-based city, MESH city, teletopia, ubiquitous city or wired city. Or the more common smart city. The whole point is, if people are getting smarter, can cities lag behind? Smart living in smart cities is the norm.
Muscat, along with thousands of aspirants including Dubai, is on an epic transformational journey to join the likes of New York, London and Paris as one of the top ranking smart cities.
With the present economic turbulence posing myriad problems, smart cities can go a long way in achieving optimal resource consumption and cost cutting, thereby ensuring a sustainable future.
What makes a city really smart is the enhanced quality of living, made possible by an underlying system that integrates multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions towards better management of city’s information and transportation systems, law enforcement, hospitals, water supply networks, waste management, parking and other public services.
Real-time monitoring systems collect huge volumes of data from citizens and devices, which are processed and analysed to offer better services and management. Thus the key drivers of smart city are obviously data and analytics.
Smart cities are highly sustainable as they help cut costs and limit resource consumption, and offer efficient real time responses to challenges. They enable the Sultanate to embrace digital economy, and offer efficient government services.
The Sultanate will host its first Smart City Summit (conference and exhibition) on 28-29 March in association with the Smart Cities Council and Information Technology Authority (ITA), where the economic value and social benefits of implementing smart city projects in the country will be explored. Major smart city companies and solution providers will showcase smart technologies and ideas at the summit.
Meanwhile, the Sultanate has commenced implementing various smart city applications, and its first smart city project, the Madinat Al Irfan, is going ahead in full steam. Further, Omagine Oman and Duqm reflect the country’s focus on building new urban centres with smart solutions. The government’s $530 million Technology Fund is another key drive to encourage smart city ventures. Oman may get the first version of a smart city by 2020, according to Darren Tong, COO of Telecom Oman.
Oman’s digital strategy, which forms the backbone of smart city, was formulated by ITA a decade ago, aimed at building a future-proof ICT infrastructure. According to Dr Salim bin Sultan al Ruzaiqi, CEO of ITA, technology has brought about significant improvements in the delivery of public services and smart governance in Oman, and the growth in fiber-based national fixed broadband infrastructure has boosted smart services.
The Fiber to Home (FTTH) new-generation broad band being implemented in Oman will enable ultra-fast Internet connectivity and content-rich applications, and by 2020, over 90 per cent of the Governorate of Muscat (350,000 premises) will be covered by fiber optic network. By 2040, all homes and businesses will be connected to the national broadband network across the Sultanate. Seamless, end-to-end telecommunication connectivity is a key enabler of smart city.
There is renewed focus on research on smart city solutions. The Research Council Oman’s (TRC) strategic programme on smart cities aims at finding smart solutions to a raft of challenges such as traffic congestion, lack of parking lots and sewage systems, and poor tourism services.
As noted by Ali al Shidhani, the Director of ICT Research at TRC, smart city solutions are diverse, and Oman must focus on solutions that address specific challenges.
The key focus of smart cities is people, and as such smart solutions are designed to empower city residents with advanced digital tools that facilitate easy access to crucial resources, and offer heightened safety and security.
The city’s diverse government agencies including those mandated with law enforcement and provision of healthcare and transport services, and municipalities will be able to share data seamlessly enabling smart response and improved decision making.
Once Muscat reaches smart city status, its residents can expect a digital transformation of their lifestyle. Aided by the IoT platform, millions of sensors will continuously gather volumes upon volumes of information about the city and people’s activities. With smart payments, smart retail, smart entertainment and smart citizen services, life can’t be anything but smart.
But as smart solutions sneak their way into traditional villages such as Misfat al Abreen, where the philosophy and approach to life and living are not yet dictated by faceless technology, what could be the impacts?