10 years, 6 months ago

Dubai ‘smart city’: are we there yet?

A “smart city” vision is born as a response to the challenges that arise from the steadily growing number of people living in urban clusters. While an exact definition has yet to be formed, a smart city provides high quality of life to its citizens with the following six drivers acting as forces of innovation:

1. Smart mobility

2. Smart environment

3. Smart people

4. Smart living

5. Smart governance

The main goal is to create a competitive and attractive business environment by leveraging on the human capital of the city, while allowing for wider participation in various aspects of public life. This includes developing novel ways to implement transportation systems and establishing an increased focus on natural resource preservation.

An Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure is the basis of the smart city foundation because it provides advanced services in Intelligent Transport System (ITS), environmental and energy monitoring, building management, health care, public safety and security, and remote working and e-commerce domains. In other words, this type of infrastructure can play a key role in intertwining all the actors of a smart city to support the provision of ubiquitous services.

According to United Nations estimates, the number of urban residents will rise to 5 billion by 2030 and 80 percent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050. “City” has gradually replaced “Country” as the main unit on the perspective of global competitiveness due to the growing contribution of national Gross Domestic Product. In recent years, this urbanization trend has also affected developing countries. For instance, in China, urban population has grown to more thank 600 million, equaling 50 percent of the population living in urban areas. That is, urbanization has become an irresistible element globally when it comes to development of a country.

The concept of a city taking the lead, in contrast to the countryside, Dubai has its position set to be a city of “now” and enjoys wealth of praise for its advanced ICT infrastructure. Dubai is the most liked urban city for the Middle East as well as all of Asia, in terms of where people move to pursue better quality of life and career opportunities. E-government has already been a great success for the Dubai government, and taking it in consideration, the government has embarked bigger initiative of e-services to transform Dubai into a “smart city.”

How “smart” is Dubai already?

Despite the success of Dubai’s government initiatives, a smart city initiative has its own challenges and obstacles. One has to critically analyze what status Dubai is considered now and what should it be anticipating when it comes to moving toward becoming a smart city. To perform such an analysis, there needs to be a smart city evaluation before entering into building e-services. The goal, of course, should be to ease the life its citizens at the most optimal level. The assessment needs to be done from a four dimensional view, which will clearly indicate where does Dubai stands now.

A. Smart Environment

This dimension stands for the status of the innovative environment in a city, with the infrastructure of supporting communication and service delivery among government, businesses, and citizens.

B. Smart Business

This dimension stands for the status of information, and innovation momentum of the businesses, which are influential to the sustainable development of a city.

C. Smart Citizens

This dimension relates to the abilities, behavior, and experience of citizens in ICT applications and services of the city.

D. Smart Governance

This dimension focuses on the effectiveness of the government in terms of implementing policies, standards, and regulations to public e-services implementation, including services to businesses (2B) and to citizens(2C) for a smart environment.


Smart Environment

Recent statistics from the Telecommunication Regularity Authority (TRA) of UAE highlight some interesting facts, which highlight general growth of overall telecom users due to strong ICT infrastructure in place. As per the statistics of July 2013, the following data is evident to assess the smart environment of UAE as a whole and Dubai in specific.

Mobile Statistics

Till July 2013

Active Mobile Subscriptions


Mobile Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants


Fixed Statistics

Till July 2013

Number of Fixed Lines


Fixed lines per 100 inhabitants



The numbers indicate the high penetration rate of Telecom ICT usage by the inhabitants of UAE. Due to high end infrastructure of ICT in place, the rate of communication is quite high. This shows that a smart environment is already in place to transform Dubai into a smart city.

Smart Business

It is essential that overall businesses in Dubai are seemingly integrated to ensure quality and seamless customer e-service experience. The ability to access much broader and larger amounts of data linked to individuals and the society inhabitants live in is important. For this kind of collaboration and integration, both the government and private businesses need to be integrated seamlessly.

Currently, although Dubai has a dynamic environment for business and has a multitude of technology-enabled service delivery mechanisms, it still lacks total integration between both crucial elements of a city: government and private. Although significant steps have been taken to bridge the gap between both, there is a lot to be done to remove the integration barriers between the two.

This will have to be an evolutionary change for all the players in a smart city initiative, as the definition of citizen and customer will have to be merged together. Both cannot be distinguished from one another other as the end user is just a service consumer and is heavily dependent on both the government and private sectors.

Some of areas suggested for smarter city are as follow:



Environmental Improvement

Smarter meters, smart grid, air quality monitoring

Economic Growth

Smart educations, incubators, green growth initiatives

Cost Efficiency

Removing data silos between government departments


Redirecting transport around a collision, sensoring firemen

Quality of Life

Feedback loops in urban panning from data across the city

Connected Citizens

Transport apps for a connected commute

Smart Phones Business Models

Using data from smartphones across a city to create new advertising and revenue stream for local businesses

Expats settling

Connected immigration clearance to bank account openings, residence search, best schools recommendations


Smart Citizen

It is the citizens of a city who decide the success of a smart city transformation, as they are the end users who are going to consume the services. It is very important to understand the overall behavior of citizens when it comes consumption of e-services. Usage of e-services should become a daily norm for citizens in order for the government to offer smart services.

According to “Internet World Stats,” the UAE has 5,859,118 Internet users as of June 12, 2013, , 70.9 percent of the population of the country has access to internet either through web or mobile devices. Such a high percentage of users makes Dubai a city, which has a huge potential for implementing smart city-related initiatives and projects. Since technology drives the very core of a smart city, the usage of smart mobiles cannot be taken out of the overall transformation equation. According to “Our Mobile Planet” Website, some interesting statistics are available to further understand the overall behavior of Dubai’s citizens.



Smart phone penetration rate


Frequency Mobile Internet Usage via Apps

 75% daily

If we categorize usage of Smart Apps by location:


Usage %

At Home


At Work


On the go


Café of Coffee shop


Public Transport


Age is also an important element of internet e-service usage either through web or smart phones, and it gives an indication of overall behavior of citizens. The following statistics from “Our Mobile Planet” portray the potential success for Dubai as a smart city.

The remarkable trend of usage through different ages shows the acceptability of citizens for making e-services as the means of doing different business and retail transactions.

Smart Governance

Last but not the least, a strong and efficient governance should be in place to oversee the transformation and delivery of a smart city’s services. Smart governance is about the future of the public services; it’s about greater efficiency, community leadership, mobile working, and continuous improvement through innovation; it is about improving democratic processes and transforming the ways that public services are delivered. It regulates and facilitates the transformation towards a smart city, but at the same time, sets the balance between information privacy of its citizens and its usage.

Currently, Dubai is just in the initial phases of setting up the building blocks for a smart city transformation. The government has already established a committee composed of stakeholders who are representing the public and private sectors. One should also anticipate that the main role of this committee is to increase the level of collaboration between public/private sectors, but it should also take into consideration that without a sound governing body with proper defined regulations/policies, the transformation steps will not be possible to achieve.


Dubai stands a fair chance to achieve its ambitious goals of transforming the city into the Middle East’s first smart city. With the success of its e-government initiatives and its overall popularity for its strong infrastructure and standards of living, it may not require more than six years to achieve its public sector integration, and steps can then be taken to include as much integration of the private sector as possible to deliver its services to all citizens. However, what the governing body should consider is how to bridge gaps between its government departments and private companies. There should be initiatives defining innovative ideas, service alignment, end-user experience, synergy between public and private sector roles, and adaptation of new technologies. At the end of the day, the residents of Dubai are ready to adopt their city as a smart city.