Operators lie at the crossroads of urban networks, mobile connectivity and big data; they are key contributors to the digital solutions that make cities smart and able to interact with their inhabitants. In the developing economies of the Middle East, they are positioning on the emerging smart cities market which they see as a future growth path, although they are aware it will require a transformation of their business model.
Cities around the world are starting to see the future benefits of the smart city concept. They are integrating digital technologies in their services to enhance the quality of life for city dwellers and assure sustainable urban development by making cities more efficient, eco-friendly and participative and less costly to run.
Cities in Persian Gulf countries are leading the way on these innovations, thanks to their investment capability, high-speed networks and young technophile ‘digital native’ populations. Smart solutions are one response to the challenges raised by exponential growth of urban populations as the end of the oil boom appears on the horizon. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, whose population has grown from 5 to 10 million in just a decade, Dubai has launched a hundred initiatives to make the city smarter. Its goals are to optimize the well-being and security of its citizens and to become, in time for the World Expo 2020, a showcase of innovation to make the country attractive for businesses, investors and tourists. “Dubai South”, a symbol of this strategic urbanization vision of the Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, was unveiled in August 2015. Also known as “The City of You”, this new 145 square kilometer city will become home to a million people and host Dubai’s new international airport by the year 2020.
Other smart city projects in the region include the reconstitution of the “Msheireb” historic districts of Doha in Qatar, and the building in Saudi Arabia of the “King Abdullah Economic City” near Jeddah and the “King Abdullah Financial City” in Riyadh.
In such projects the operator becomes a key partner for public authorities and utility companies (energy, transportation, security, health, etc.) to whom he provides the very foundation of any smart city: connectivity with ‘user-citizens’, via wireline and wireless networks, secure infrastructures, service platforms and turnkey user services. This unique positioning places the operator at the heart of the smart city ecosystem. Apart from connectivity, operators will also create value by monetizing the gigantic ‘big data’ streams across their networks. By aggregating and analyzing them in real time, they can generate information vital for city management and interaction with citizens. This emerging opportunity has spurred Middle East telcos strongly positioned on B2C to start adapting to serve the new promising market of local authorities and enterprises.
In addition to operators, inventing the city of tomorrow will require contributions from many sectors, including public and private companies, large or small, that have traditionally been competitors and used to operating with a “silo mentality”. The digitization of cities will revolutionize their operating modes and value chains. How can companies collaborate without sacrificing their margins? How can they maintain their customer relationship? How should they share the created value? These are still open questions.
To offer the best replies, Sofrecom Middle East is adapting its consulting services portfolio to the new digital paradigm. With long experience of assisting operators, it has teamed with Orange’s business solutions specialist, Orange Business Services, in order to become a partner of choice in tomorrow’s smart city ecosystem.