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Playing it smart: How the UAE and Huawei are creating a city of the future

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) aims to become one of the most connected and smart countries in the world within five years

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Middle East: CW Middle East: July-September 2016

Spearheaded by Dubai, the UAE’s multimillion-dollar smart city initiative is set to transform the lives of residents and tourists alike.

By working with a mix of public and private sector stakeholders, the country’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed plans to automate and connect the city’s roads, car parks, housing, power grids and government services. Administrators have already selected a host of partners to support the country's journey into the future, with Chinese firm Huawei helping to drive much of the government’s technology innovation strategy.

The UAE has already demonstrated its commitment to smart systems by successfully migrating over 95% of the government’s services to smart mobile platforms, such as m-Government and m-Services. But much remains to be done.

Safder Nazir, regional vice-president of smart cities and IoT at Huawei said “standardisation” will be key in realising the UAE’s connectivity vision.

“As Huawei continues to provide solutions and services to multiple Dubai industries including healthcare, education, finance, transportation, and energy, standardising more components of ICT infrastructure – particularly in the IoT era – will help foster this necessary development.”

Benefit to UAE citizens

Having already supported more than 100 smart cities worldwide, Huawei is well placed to offer its expertise to the region – but how will a networked city benefit the lives of Middle East citizens?

According to Nazir, smart cities represent a vision of an information-based and connected society. “People living and working in these cities generally have a higher quality of life. Using improved information transfer and analysis, smart cities of the future will have to be able to optimise municipal services, reduce environmental impact and introduce services that enhance their citizens’ experience.“

Adaptive lighting, smart application services and a host of other technologies that help to make a city user-centric and user-friendly characterise the smart city of the future. ICT technologies are an integral and vital element for any smart city to come to life.”

Narrowband IoT applications

Nazir added that internet of things (IOT) is a major growth area for Huawei and he sees tremendous potential for the sector in the UAE, “particularly when it comes to public infrastructure”.

In April 2016, Huawei and Etisalat completed the first successful trial of smart parking in the Middle East. The Chinese technology giant’s strategic partnership with Etisalat resulted in this being the first application of narrowband-IoT (NB IOT)/ machine-to-machine communications.

Nazir said: “Based on existing wireless networks, NB-IOT provides better network coverage for thing-to-thing communications, supports more connections and lowers power consumption. Such applications include smart water and gas metering, municipal light and waste management, livestock breeding and irrigation, and environment monitoring.”

Nazir added that NB-IoT is set to become the standard for existing city infrastructure, and the UAE will “most probably be among the champions of this new reality”.

Dubai saves lighting costs with IoT

In another Middle East first, Dubai launched its connected city lighting solution in March 2016, the industry's first IoT lighting system with intelligent control. It connects street lamps to the IoT and adopts a GIS-based management system, enabling cities to enhance the control and performance of every street lamp. The system provides municipal managers with status information on each lamp, in every street and enables precise control of on-off switches and brightness of individual street lamps, allowing on-demand lighting and a reduction in energy consumption by up to 80%.

“While road lamps bring convenience to people's lives, they also consume a vast amount of energy and increase management costs for municipalities. Smart lighting is designed to address these issues,” Nazir said.

“As the UAE moves towards reaching its sustainability and environment preservation targets, smart lighting will be invaluable in ensuring these goals are met.”

In tandem with government entities in Dubai, Huawei is working to identify ways in which city planners can use ICT to enhance performance of public systems and promote overall wellbeing and happiness.

Read more about smart cities

According to Nazir: “This involves reducing costs and resource consumption at an organisational level as well as helping citizens engage more effectively with city services.

“Some of the latest innovations we are focusing on right now are in the domain of IoT applications, cloud computing, mobility, software-defined networking, 4G LTE and the future build up to 5G mobile connectivity.”

Research fuels knowledge economy

As part of its wider commitment to the region, the Chinese firm rolled out its first Middle East Innovation centre in 2014. The fledgling centre aims to share its learnings and case studies with governments, enterprises and transformational initiatives across the region.

Nazir said: “We are conducting joint research on ICT and smart cities, developing industry-specific ICT capabilities for UAE citizens, and offering advisory services on technology-related initiatives and policies.

“The centre aims to be a valuable component in the ongoing integration of technology into services in Dubai, as well as in promoting human capital development and technology for the wider region.”

According to Nazir, the region’s heavy focus on innovation and transformation from a traditional commerce-based environment into a knowledge-based economy is fuelling the rapid growth of the ICT industry.

Bright future for Huawei

Today, the Middle East remains a critical and growing market for Huawei. The Shenzhen-based company began its operations in the region 15 years ago and now has 10 local offices and 5,000 employees regionally.

Nazir said the public and economic value in smart city initiatives are now a given. “For Huawei, the Dubai smart city project gives us the invaluable opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the government, forge strong, long-term partnerships with the public sector and eventually play an integral role in building the ICT infrastructure necessary for that smart vision to become a reality.”

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)