Top 10 Smart Cities in ASEAN

Smart cities are flourishing across Southeast Asia. Here we have a list with ten of the most promising ones

Kuala Lumpur skyline and traffic light trails at dusk, Malaysia, Southeast Asia
hadynyah / Getty Images

While the urban challenges that exist across Southeast Asia have continued to grow, new technologies that could tackle some of these issues have started to reach maturity.

Cities across the region are primed to take advantage of smart solutions and there has been a major improvement in spending power, digital literacy, and smartphone penetration.

Many cities now have the backbone information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in place and have begun the process of digitising some government departments and public-facing services.

During the 32nd ASEAN Summit which took place in March 2018, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong proposed an ASEAN Smart Cities Network initiative (ASCN) - a proposal which was approved by all members of the bloc.

ASCN is envisioned as a collaborative platform where 26 cities from the ten ASEAN member states work towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development. The primary goal of the ASCN is to improve the lives of ASEAN citizens, using technology as an enabler.

Although most of the cities on this feature still have a way to go until they can achieve the full smart city status, there’s a strong determination to make this happen sooner than later, as the ASCN demonstrates. It should be noted that a smart city is not only one that uses smart bins, automated cleaning robots or driverless trains but also those which invest heavily on its social infrastructure.

Here we look into 10 cities of the Southeast Asian region which are already or are in the process of becoming smart cities. Apart from New Clark City in the Philippines, all feature in the ASCN initiative. 

For this list we have used research from GovInsider, The ASEAN Post, McKinsey Global Institute ‘Smart Cities in Southeast Asia’ 2018 report, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the ASCN project profiles.

Hanoi (Vietnam)

Hanoi has been working on its smart city planning since 2016. With a population of 7.6 million, Vietnam’s capital aspires to be a green, culturally-rich, civil and modern city with sustainable development to create a better life for its inhabitants by 2030.

A thriving city, Hanoi has one of the fastest gross domestic product (GDP) growth indexes in the world.

On the technology front, that the country will be adopting 5G within two years, something which would give a huge push to the development of Hanoi’s smart city infrastructures.

Hanoi’s Smart City Action Plan includes the establishment of a Smart Operations Centre which will contain a number of functional hubs, including a support centre for the city’s IT staff, a data analysis centre and a centre for traffic supervision, traffic control and crime prevention.

The Nhật Tân Bridge crosses the Red River in Hanoi, Vietnam, Southeast Asia Quang Nguyen Vinh (CC0)

The Nhật Tân Bridge crosses the Red River in Hanoi

In the education sector, 2,700 schools and universities are being integrated into an online system where school reports and enrolment data can be easily accessible online by students and teachers.

And when it comes to transportation, the city is working on a digital traffic map to ease traffic congestion. Hanoi, together with Ho Chi Minh City, is using the iParking app in some districts. Thanks to this app, drivers can find free parking spaces and pay from their smartphones easier and quicker.

Singapore (Singapore)

No top smart cities list would be complete without Singapore on it.

Ranking an impressive 6th position in the top world smart cities 2018 index by the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Singapore is at the forefront of the digital economy, digital government and digital society. Not only that, the city-state received the Smart City of 2018 award at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 which took place last November in Barcelona.

Singapore is ahead of major global cities such as New York, San Francisco or London, and with its autonomous vehicles, smart sensor platform and use or artificial intelligence (AI), there’s barely a day when the city-estate doesn’t make headlines in technology news.

One of the elements which places Singapore ahead of its neighbours when it comes to smart city development is the government’s strong commitment on tech-friendly legislation and a massive investment in its smart city infrastructure.

Today Singapore is the only city in Southeast Asia that is within the “smart city sandbox” category. When a city reaches this stage, it is typically focused on improving productivity and designing new types of citizen experiences rather than filling major gaps in public infrastructure or expanding services to previously unreached segments of the population.

The next steps may be pioneering autonomous driving innovation to revolutionise mobility or installing more building automation systems to achieve bigger reductions in emissions.

According to IDC data, Singapore leads the way in government IT spending among ASEAN countries.

Jakarta (Indonesia)

As part of its smart city development, Jakarta has launched Qlue - “the smart city app”.

Qlue is an AI-powered social media app which allows users to report problems directly to the local government and businesses, as well as sharing information with other citizens.

Reports sent through Qlue are dispatched in real time to the relevant local authorities. Each report status can be monitored using the app and Qlue’s Dashboard online.

The app promotes civil participation and bottom-up engagement, encouraging citizens to complaint about poor or lack of services, bring suggestions forward or share data through different platforms, including Smart Government Dashboard, Smart Environment, Smart Mobility, Smart Media Analysis or Smart Safety.

One of Jakarta’s future smart city projects is the development of OK OTrip, an integrated transit cashless payment system. The project consists on integrating all of the city’s transport payment systems into one cashless platform to improve urban mobility, enhance modal share and reduce travel time, while keeping travel affordable.

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

26% of respondents to a survey by The Economist rated Kuala Lumpur as already being a smart city.

Among the governmental initiatives to make the Malaysian capital smarter is the outlining of the Greater Kuala Lumpur area as one of the twelve National Key Economic Areas of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

The main objective of the ETP is to transform the city by using technology and developing digital skills and related areas towards smart city development.

In 2016, Kuala Lumpur’s City Council was named finalist in IDC’s Smart City Asia Pacific Awards (Scapa) in the Public Works category due to its Heavy Vehicle Classification System (HVCS) initiative, which was implemented to address traffic problems during peak hours.

Kuala Lumpur envisions to be a world class sustainable city by 2020 through the implementation of ten strategic targets, among which are achieving energy efficient spatial structure, sustainable energy system and increasing the share of green employment by 4%.

Mandalay (Myanmar)

Myanmar’s last royal capital and its second largest city - after Yangon - with 1.25 million people has experienced rapid urbanisation and population growth in the recent years.

To promote itself as a smart and green city, the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) and the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD) have prepared their first major 25 year urban development plan.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the French Agency for Development (AFD) are providing technical and financial support to help the city achieve its vision through the Mandalay Urban Services Improvement Project, which aims to improve the city’s water supply system, wastewater treatment and solid waste management.

In addition to the above initiatives, the International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has also been providing technical assistance for developing a waste management strategy to help the city achieve a zero waste, zero emissions and a resource-efficient society.

Mandalay is already seeing the benefit of implementing technology on its streets: Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are being used in the city to help officials keep track of water issues; drones are helping to map the city to plan drainage systems; and traffic congestion is monitored and planned through automated control centres.

However, as Chief Smart City Officer Ye Myat Thu points out, Mandalay still needs to work on its infrastructure in order to unleash its full potential as a smart city.

Phuket (Thailand)

An arcadian paradise for tourists around the world, TripAdvisor ranks Phuket as the second top 25 destination in Asia. The importance of tourism for the island shouldn’t be underestimated: it comprises 97% of its GDP.

The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), which is working with the government to create smart cities in Thailand, chose Phuket as the first city to lead the initiative because of its reputation for being one the biggest tourist cities in the world and also because of its existing technology infrastructures.

Phuket has outlined a multipronged Smart City Action Plan covering tourism, safety, the environment, the economy, governance, education, and healthcare. The plan allows the city to prioritise applications against the intended outcomes. If it can manage to grow in a smart and sustainable way, the island could serve as a potential blueprint for other ASEAN cities that are dependent on tourism but in danger of being overrun by it.

In November 2017, Prajin Juntong, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, announced that his country has set a target to develop 100 cities within two decades as part of its Thailand 4.0 initiative - a plan to transform the nation’s economy into a digitally powered ecosystem.

Phuket is one of the three cities taking part in the smart cities pilot project which started in 2016 - the other two being Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen.

The Thai government has injected US$13 million - and a possible addition of US$30 million in the coming years as the project expands - to the island’s pilot programme and is expected that it will make Phuket’s economy grow by 4.5% in the next five years.

So far the Thai government has been employing big data analytics to keep track of and improve tourism delivery services. For that, it has leveraged on several startups, companies and events like hackathons to study the various types of tourists that visit the island annually.

Phuket is already using 1,000 free WiFi hotspots which, when combined with CCTV driven vehicle licence plate recognition systems, help to map out the city’s population density and tourist movements.

The city intends to build a closed-circuit TV network with “eagle eyes” over the metropolis. For this, it has already deployed 700 of 1,300 “publicly owned” CCTVs from police and local agencies.

Makassar (Indonesia)

Mayor of Makassar, Mohammad Ramdhan “Danny” Pomanto, wants to make his city the smartest in Indonesia.  

Under the motto “Sombere [kind hearted] and Smart City”, Makassar is combining technology and local wisdom to offer a sociotechnical solution to the city’s development.

As today, the technology developed in Makassar City include Telkomsel 4G LTE service with 1800 MHz frequency, CCTV cameras, smart card and a broadband network infrastructure. 

losari beach makassar indonesia at night adiartana getty Adiartana / Getty Images

Losari Beach, Makassar

The city is also developing a public transport system called Petepete Smart, consisting of a modern float of mini-buses equipped with WiFi, GPS, air conditioning and a capacity of 12 seated passengers, 4 stands, and 1 passenger with a disability. The vehicles can be monitored centrally through a command centre.

In 2016 Makassar partnered with the Singaporean government to build smart city solutions and digital services.

The partnership gives Singaporean companies opportunities to work with the Makassar government on its smart city plan. This include building digital service platforms, smart cards, intelligent transport systems, preemptive flood detection systems, and smart street lighting.

Mayor Pomanto also wants to collect data to cut traffic congestion and persuade motorbike riders to use public transport instead.

Danang (Vietnam)

Vietnam’s fifth largest city, Danang aims to have a smart ICT infrastructure and key databases by 2020 and achieve a fully smart, liveable and sustainable city status by 2030.

According to an EIU survey, 84% of Danang’s residents consider their city smart today, citing improvements to the environment as the main benefit. This is reflected in practice as Danang seeks to develop into an environmentally-friendly city within two years by raising awareness and enhancing local environmental protection and urban management, in part by working closely with industry.

Danang is also seeing initiatives in e-government, low-cost online access and administrative and operational management in various areas.

Several international companies have also been involved in the city’s ongoing infrastructure development efforts in electricity, telecommunications, fibre optic cables and cloud-based solutions, among other areas.

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