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Singapore sets the gold standard for Asian smart cities

Article - November 14, 2018

Having built on existing advantages due to its size, organization and political structure, Singapore’s commitment to create a leading economy powered by digital innovation means it is today one of the smartest cities around, and an example to which its regional peers can aspire.


With increased urbanization and rising global pressures to remain economically and environmentally sustainable in the face of dwindling resources and growing climate change, the development of so-called ‘smart cities’ has become a very hot topic.

Urbanization poses a host of issues for cities and their populations worldwide. Major urban sprawls are today cramped with decaying and overused infrastructure, crippling traffic congestion, and rising levels of unsafe air and noise pollution. In response, countries and their governments are turning to smart technologies to make cities more livable, whilst also building capacity for further growth in an environmentally and societally-conscious way.

According to a recent United Nations report, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, with Asia being the fastest-growing continent along with Africa. Home to 53 percent of the world’s urban population in 2018, Asia will see this expand to 64 percent by 2050. What’s more, with a predicted 62 megacities (urban populations of more than 10 million people) by 2025, it seems Asia has no choice but to innovate to help citizens live more comfortably and sustainably.

While it could be argued that the Asian continent is today a leading innovator in smart city solutions – the likes of Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong all rank highly on global smart city indicators – Asian cities are still a long way off their overall utopian goal. Perhaps the city which is closest to achieving this objective, however, is Singapore – ranked the top global smart city in 2017 by Juniper Research.

Benefiting from its status as one of the world’s smallest countries, Singapore is also one of the most connected. Since the country’s Smart Nation initiative was announced in 2014, it has committed considerable resources to take advantage of this connectivity for the sake of citizens, and in the process making it an even more attractive location for innovative ideas and businesses.

Having built on its existing advantages due to its size, organization and political structure, it is this commitment to radical transformation, as well as a nimbleness by authorities and a strong focus on partnerships, that means Singapore is today one of the smartest cities around, and continually getting smarter.

A prime example of Singapore’s willingness to harness the innovative expertise of the private sector is its partnership with global technology group ST Engineering in the area of smart urban mobility.

Collaborating with the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), ST Engineering is working on state-of-the-art public transport solutions for the city, including pioneering a smart street lighting system that will enhance urban planning and traffic operations, a rail enterprise asset management system, and the development of an autonomous bus network. Having attained global experience in delivering over200 projects for smart rail and intelligent road transport across more than 40 cities worldwide, ST Engineering was selected as a key strategic partner in Singapore’s Smart Nation drive. The group’s president and CEO, Vincent Chong, says that it’s thanks to Singapore’s “very open market approach” that has seen it “naturally take the lead” in smart city innovation.

“The Singapore government is very supportive of the industry,” he explains. “They are also supportive of regulators working with the industry, so this means we can have a more comprehensive set of solutions that can be operationalized faster. That’s where Singapore has an advantage.”

ST Engineering’s involvement in Singapore’s smart city innovations is not solely confined to urban mobility. The group’s suite of integrated smart city solutions, CitySense, also addresses cybersecurity threats as well as energy inefficiency and utility wastage. Calling on a range of digital capabilities, data analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics, ST Engineering will, where applicable, integrate its smart city solutions onto an Open Digital Platform in the new Punggol Digital District (PDD) that it is developing with JTC. The PDD is the first purpose-built district in Singapore to adopt an integrated smart city masterplan approach that brings together a business park, a university and community facilities. Opening gradually from 2023 onwards, PDD will create 28,000 jobs and is envisioned to be a vibrant and inclusive district where cutting-edge technology and social innovation transform the way people work, live and learn.

“It’s about improving lives and that’s what we have been doing for the last fifty-one years,” says Mr. Chong, whose ST Engineering started off as a defense company, but over time has leveraged on the technological know-how of defense to move into dual-use technology. “We look forward to contributing our integrated technology and engineering expertise,” he remarks, “as well as providing our network of talent and resources towards building Singapore’s first digital district.”

When completed, PDD will be a significant milestone, adding on to its record of over 500 projects that ST Engineering have completed in more than 70 cities, including contributing smart technology solutions to the Smart Nation drive of Singapore, as well throughout Asia and worldwide. After signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Keppel Urban Solutions (KUS) in June 2018, ST Engineering is set to expand its smart city portfolio even further. The agreement will leverage both companies’ expertise and resources in the design and implementation of smart city solutions in Keppel’s developments as well as to collaborate on third-party projects.

Launched in October last year as the new smart-specific unit of parent company Keppel Corporation, an infrastructure conglomerate, KUS was formed specifically to “capitalize on the mega trends of rapid urbanization and the increasing global focus on sustainability”.

Speaking at the singing of the MoU, Cindy Lim, Managing Director of KUS, said, “We are excited to pursue growth opportunities in this region with a like-minded partner such as ST Engineering, with whom we share the commitment to sustainability and innovation.”

The first project that Keppel and ST Engineering will embark on is Saigon Sports City, a 64-hectare development, envisaged to be Vietnam’s first one-stop sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub, focused on sustainability, connectivity and community. Technologies considered to be implemented will be smart street lighting, smart security management, autonomous vehicles and mobile robots, drone network solutions, and smart environment monitoring.

Besides ST Engineering, KUS has also entered into a strategic collaboration with Microsoft for this project, as well as future developments. Microsoft will help KUS develop and provide modern smart urban applications using sensing technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as to effectively manage infrastructure and community services.

With this trio of major collaborating companies having already refined their innovative solutions in Singapore, it means a gold smart city standard has already been effectively set. This will stand future smart city projects across Asia, as well as the business models of the companies involved in building them, in very good health.