There are many definitions of what a smart city is. The term refers to an urban area that uses technology to increase its citizens’ quality of life and ease societal problems such as urbanisation, pollution, inadequate housing and infrastructure. 

Cisco, for example, defines a smart city as one that uses digital technology to connect, protect and enhance the lives of its citizens. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, video cameras, social media and other inputs act as a ‘nervous system’, providing the city operator and citizens with constant feedback so they can make informed decisions.


Asian smart cities are rising; for example, EasyPark Group’s 2017 Smart Cities Index put Singapore in second place and Tokyo in sixth, with Taipei, Seoul, Daejeon, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi and Mumbai also listed. Meanwhile, IDC said New Zealand and Singapore led the way for the most smart city initiatives in its 2017 Smart City Asia-Pacific Awards.

Forbes reckons Asia could become the world’s leading region for smart city development. In 2014, Singapore launched a landmark Smart Nation programme, while China announced that 500 of its cities would be undergoing smart city transformations in 2017. Frost & Sullivan expects about 10 cities to become 'smart' cities by 2025 in Asia-Pacific, more than half of them in China. 

In south-east Asia, Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) has been developed. ASCN is a collaborative platform where Asean member states work towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development using technology as an enabler to improve people’s lives. Singapore convened the first annual meeting in July 2018 alongside the World Cities Summit.

There are, however, constraints and risks in smart city development, especially human factors. First, some segments of the population might not fully understand or use the maximum potential of the IoT. Asia’s ageing population and the poor are two groups facing platforms and equipment that may not be fully user-centric. Another issue is communication and network service providers’ investment in forming the right technological support to build smart cities that adequately meet citizens’ needs. Third is the universality and standardisation of integration amid Asia’s plethora of languages and IoT use preferences. A fourth factor is security and privacy issues.

Asian smart city development is progressing nicely. Let’s hope that the continuous monitoring, planning and execution help to address minor hiccups and avoid major problems.

Lawrence Yeo is founder and principal consultant of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based management consulting firm providing Asia market research, business strategy development and export/FDI promotion services.