Future Cities

Hyper-connectivity, hyper-efficiency, sustainability and multi-functionality.

Beyond being buzzwords spouted by futurists at TED talk conferences, these are characteristics that many aspiring Smart Nations strive to embed into their infrastructure. Governments in Southeast Asia are playing a big role in supporting these technological innovations. Every year we are seeing increased seamless integration of smart technology such as IoT into our everyday lives.

This in turn will not only boost the economy but also create a better environment for the citizens to live and work in.

Also Read: How drones can help Singapore be the world’s first Smart Nation

Think of a world where we can pay for anything — gas, coffee, plane tickets — just by using our smartphones. We can also use these devices to keep watch on our cars, health and homes. This is not a pipe-dream but a reality that Southeast Asia will soon come to experience with the increased push for innovation.

Here are some ways Southeast Asian countries are proactively spurring the growth of smart technologies.

Singapore and its bid to be the first

The Republic is pulling no punches in its bid towards becoming the world’s first Smart Nation.

A decade ago, the Singapore government unveiled a 10-year master plan entitled ‘iN2015‘ aimed at holistically growing the Infocomm sector and using Infocomm technologies to boost the economy by connecting businesses, individuals and communities through a platform.

In the 10 years that have passed, the Singapore government has made great strides in its progress. For example, 85 per cent of the households now have access to the Internet. NFC payments are now accepted at 30,000 payment points.

In addition, the establishment of Telehealth services enables medical caregivers to remotely monitor chronic disease patients at NUHS and many businesses in sectors such as hospitality, tourism and retail now support mobile commerce and services.

Also Read: 5 ‘made in Asia’ smart living projects that will get you pumped

Today, Singapore is transitioning into the next stage with the Smart Nation Platform(SNP) plan.

Under this plan, tech infrastructure will be further strengthened through collaborations with social networks and other tech agencies. Singapore’s IDA also sought the input of 44 undisclosed tech companies when it drafted the plan.

This plan will be launched in several phases. In the ‘Connect’ phase, IDA has created a heterogeneous network (HetNet) programme, which will aim at increasing broadband data bandwidth in the country.

It will allow users to have seamless access to the Internet across wireless networks of different mobile technologies with a boost in coverage. This will allow users to remain connected to the Internet even if one network goes down.

The four telcos Singtel, StarHub, M1 and MyRepublic will be undergoing a series of trials later this year to test out HetNet’s circuits. In the long run, this technology will be applied to telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, remote learning and more.

In the subsequent phase, ‘Collect & Comprehend’, the government wants to help public agencies plan and respond effectively to situations or emergencies by enabling them to pool data from a central data operating system. For example, cleaners in the housing estates will be able to use the data to find out which areas needs to be cleaned. Public officers will be able to to quickly detect which areas are affected by illegal smoking.

Two months ago, Singapore launched yet another initiative — Infocomm Media 2025 — to complement and support the SNP.

Also Read: What it takes to build a communicative and connected city

This plan will be focussed on three areas — Smart Logistics, Smart Nation tech challenges and Smart Health-Assist. Among its goals is the nurturing of an Infocomm media ecosystem that encourages risk-taking and experimentation through targetted support and assistance to tech startups.

It will also aim to implement smart technologies into every facet of people’s lives, be it health, education or transport.

For example, book publisher Marshall Cavendish is employing a learning analytics engine to develop its learning portal. Students of different learning abilities will be able to receive customised lessons based on the portal’s assessment.

Medical students can now minimise mishaps to themselves or others by practicing medical procedures on a holographic 3D model instead of a live body.

Malaysia and Thailand are close behind

Although not as advanced as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are both ramping up their Smart Nation initiatives too.

In a Huawei ICT Roadshow in Malaysia this year, the Chinese ICT solutions provider announced that it will help to speed up Malaysia’s Smart Nation ambitions.

Also Read: Huawei is selling more smartphones in Southeast Asia than ever

For example, it will provide a “high quality, high bandwidth, and high reliability campus network with a significant TCO [total cost of ownership] saving” with the development of Malaysia’s first Smart campus.

It will also form a joint learning lab in the campus to enable the transfer of Huawei’s technologies to the students.

With regard to Malaysia’s cities, Huawei has a plan for them as well. Through its Smart City Solution initiative, it will implement end-to-end security with ubiquitous network access, a convergent command centre, video surveillance cloud and mobile policing. This allows for enhanced security measures and precise decision-making with comprehensive on-site analysis.

For Thailand, it is embarking on an initiative called SMART THAILAND 2020 which will boost ICT technologies in the country where only half the population is accessing the Internet.

There are also plans to turn Chiang Mai and Phuket into Smart Cities. The Information and Communication Technology ministry aims to roll out a digital economy plan that will focus on building up hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure, service infrastructure, digital economy promotion and a digital society.

The ministry will also launch projects focussed on e-commerce, e-education, e-industry, and e-government. For example, it plans to build a high-speed Internet infrastructure that will connect every village with schools. It will also seek to enable SMEs or companies involved in agriculture to adopt e-commerce solutions.

Also Read: 500 Startups launches US$10M micro-fund to nurture Thailand’s startups

Accelerating technological change with startups

Beyond sweeping master plans to boost their respective nations’ technological innovation, both the public and private sectors in each country are also growing startups through incubation and accelerator programmes.

In Malaysia, government-backed MaGIC — an entrepreneurship academy — holds talks, workshops and has an accelerator aimed at imparting skills and providing support to boost the country’s startup ecosystem.

US-based Founder’s Institute, a startup accelerator, launched in Thailand two years ago aims at providing support to startups during the early-stage development.

Singapore’s leading telco, Singtel, has also jumped in the game.

Last year, it launched the Singtel Accelerator Challenge in collaboration with Samsung, aimed at discovering the next best consumer-focussed app or IoT product. The app Fiuzu, a travel app that provides tips to travellers to optimise their travel experience won last year. Samsung then supported the app by promoting it on its ‘Samsung Galaxy Apps’ feature.

Also Read: Macro-view of Malaysian ecosystem with MaGIC’s Cheryl Yeoh

This year, Singtel is launching yet another Accelerator Challenge, aimed at promoting Smart Living. The top two winners will not only win S$20,000 (US$14,320) but also get to participate in the Singtel Group-Samsung Regional Mobile App Competition 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia on December 8.

So get your thinking cap on now, startups!

This article was produced in partnership with the Singtel Accelerator Challenge 2015. If you have an app that improves smarter living through technology and connectivity, apply at www.singtelaccelerator.com by September 28, 2015 for the opportunity to win SG$20,000 and bring your idea to life!