Smart City - Bright Lights, Future City

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Can a lamppost transform Hong Kong?


The government here certainly hopes so. In December it released the long-awaited Smart City Blueprint outlining the innovation and technology goals and strategy for a happier, healthier and more competitive Hong Kong.

Speaking to a packed house in PwC’s Wanchai Experience Center, Government Chief Information Officer Allen Yeung was keen to emphasize that what fuels the beating heart of any successful “smart city” is data – specifically in Hong Kong’s case, the data that’s running through submarine cables like blood through veins.

“Smart” Hong Kong, Yeung told his audience, has three layers:

“The first is its global interconnectivity, which puts it at the center of many important connection points. Eleven to 12 undersea cables are currently being built, and data throughput has already doubled this year.

Hong Kong currently hosts 40 terabytes per second in terms of throughput, but when Google and Facebook’s cables go live, this will triple… Another cable planned to go live in 2019 will put it at over 200 terabytes per second.

“This is actually more activity than Hong Kong alone can consume. The city is a regional hub through which data can go in and out within a short period of time. This is very important for the financial sector, as the short latency time translates into a lot of money.

“The second layer is the data center. The data will arrive, but you need enough capacity to store it. We are pleased to see two new data centers being built this year, which will double Hong Kong’s capacity.

“But the third and final layer is the most important. It is how we apply the data to managing the city.”

Enter the multifunctional “smart” lamppost. In addition to keeping our streets lit at night, this humble device will soon be collecting real-time data about Hong Kong’s weather, pollution, traffic flow and security footage; data the government hopes will transform the way we manage our city by enabling us to react and respond much faster to issues as they arise.

This basic application of smart technology may be a small step forward, but to pull it off will require a fundamental shift in Hong Kong – both in practices and in mindset.

“Along with the public and private sector, a simple project like this would all of a sudden engage 10 different civil departments – e.g. the Environment Bureau, the Tourism Board, the Transport Department, etc. – to work together towards a common goal,” says Yeung.

Smart government, Yeung said, is a relatively new concept for Hong Kong – cue gentle laughter from the audience – but it’s clear that it’s just what the city needs to smarten up.