Smart cities a smart solution for Middle East city planners

City planners in the Middle East face a pressing challenge. Their rapidly increasing urban populations are straining existing infrastructure even while governments look to attract new businesses and industries to support their economies beyond oil. Governments are increasingly looking to smart cities to provide the answer.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the population of the Middle East was 213 million in 2012 – up dramatically from 127 million in 1990. The Middle East is also highly urbanised; according to UN figures 85% of the population of the UAE, for example, already lives in cities. This is expected to increase to 91% by 2050.

City-dwellers consume over three quarters of the world’s energy production and are responsible for 80% of CO2 emissions. To help manage energy and other resources in these urban environments, governments in the Middle East are looking towards smart city technology.

Intelligence in the infrastructure

Smart cities put intelligence inside the infrastructure. Software, connectivity, sensors, cloud solutions and M2M enable disparate infrastructure elements to share real-time data together and with management systems. This provides city authorities with the insights they need to stay in control and make their conurbations function efficiently.

Such efficiencies can help manage scarce resources, such as water or energy. Smart metering such as that offered by m20 city or available at PowerMatching City in the Netherlands can significantly reduce waste and help manage demands.

Optimising energy and water is essential in these growing modern cities, and smart city systems play a central role in this process.

Join the dots

As real-time data is gathered across city infrastructure, it becomes possible to develop innovative digital services that galvanise relationships with city residents and visitors while also improving lives.

Connecting each city’s array of digital components demands robust networks to support them. A smart city is all about digitisation. This smart city technology enables better management of non-traditional components that were not previously easy to maintain: car park automation, access and building control, CCTV and security functions.


To achieve all of this requires the financial and political will that is present in the Middle East. “To create smart cities, it is necessary that city planners and governments have the vision to drive change, a strong overarching vision is ultimately required,” analyst Paul Doherty writes in a report on smart cities for McGraw Hill.

Contrast this with Europe. A McKinsey review of 50 European smart city projects found nearly all were launched as pilot schemes. “For the most part, neither city officials nor technology vendors have been willing (or able) to risk investing in large-scale demonstrations.”

There is also a big difference in scale between Middle East and European smart city projects. The city of Nice, France, for example, has put in some smart city components with very focused services. Projects are simply much bigger and more all-encompassing in the Middle East.

Greenfield vs brownfield

Smart cities projects in the Middle East are not just about brand new cities. Brownfield sites include Dubai, the UAE and Doha, which aim to become ‘smarter’ cities, while greenfield developments include King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, Lusail in Qatar and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.

Greenfield sites provide the opportunity to interconnect the different services right from the beginning, which cannot be done in an existing city. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Orange Business Services has been working with the Al Ra’idah Investment Company for years to develop the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), the largest of four smart cities the country is building with an investment of $70 billion. Located north of Riyadh, KAFD will offer a futuristic smart city experience, extending across mass transit, energy supply and more.

Planners need a partner to help in assessing, designing, building and running smart cities, and playing the role of master systems integrator in these very complex ecosystems.


Greater tourism and travel demands are also driving smart city investment in the Middle East as it prepares to host huge international events, such as Dubai and the UAE with World Expo 2020. More infrastructure is needed to support these events and to build innovative showcases for those travelling to them.

With an urban population of around 99%, Qatar is set to host the World Cup in 2022. With this in mind, the country is spending over $120 billion on related projects, including developing clean energy solutions within smart cities.

Dubai has launched an ambitious master plan featuring 100 smart city projects covering urban planning, transport, communications, electricity, infrastructure and more. It also spans boosting citizen and tourist engagement through smartphone app services.

Part of the overall project, the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) hopes to attract new business through provision of state-of-the-art smart city facilities, electric cars, remote controlled digital signage, free Wi-Fi and intelligent controls of water supply and consumption.

Such is the scale and extent of smart city development in the Middle East that these projects are likely to inform the development of smart cities everywhere. The New Climate Economy Report 2014 claims cities will be home to around 60% of the global population by 2030, meaning most city planners will look to deploy smart solutions to realise the necessary efficiencies they provide as they struggle to sustain huge populations on limited resources.

City planners in the Middle East may face similar challenges to those elsewhere, but the region benefits from clear visions and leadership that mean it will move well beyond other regions in the development of smart cities – and much faster.

Philippe Koebel is senior vice president of Emerging Markets & Indirect at Orange Business Services.


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