Smart Cities in the Middle East: from buzz to business

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 urbanized; according to UN figures 85% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, for example, already live in cities. This is expected to increase to 91% by 2050.

City-dwellers consume over three quarters of all 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 Veolia Water and Orange Business through their m20 city or available at PowerMatching City in the Netherlands can significantly reduce waste and help manage demands.

“Optimizing energy and water is essential in these growing modern cities and smart city systems play a central role in this process,” says Philippe Koebel, Senior Vice President of Emerging Markets & Indirect at Orange Business.

Join the dots

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

Connecting each cities array of digital components demands robust networks to support them. “A smart city is all about digitization,” says Koebel. 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 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,” says Koebel.

Greenfield vs brownfield

Smart cities projects in the Middle East are not just about brand new cities. Brownfield sites include Dubai 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 the UAE.

Greenfield sites give the opportunity to interconnect the different services right from the beginning, which is something you cannot do in an existing city.

In Saudi Arabia, Orange Business 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 invested $70 billion to build. Located north of Riyadh, KAFD will offer a futuristic smart city experience, extending across mass transit, energy supply, and more.

“Orange Business recently took on the task of assessing, designing, building and running two major smart cities in Saudi Arabia and in Qatar, playing the role of master systems integrator,” says Koebel. “In these large projects the sales cycle is particularly long, as the customer engagement includes developing the right initial vision and the subsequent execution of the complete extent of that vision in very complex ecosystems.”

World class

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 World Expo in 2020. “They need more infrastructure for these events and hope to build innovative showcases for those travelling to those events,” says Koebel.

With an urban population of around 99 percent, Qatar is set to host the FIFA 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.

And beyond

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 percent of the global population by 2030, meaning most city planners will look to deploy smart solutions to realize the necessary efficiencies they provide as they struggle to sustain huge populations on limited resources.

Orange Business supports more than 500 multinational companies in Middle East and Africa, bringing its experience implementing large projects globally and regionally, and as a systems integrator. Orange offers a range of services including connectivity, professional services, cloud and applications. It also works with a number of partners, including Eutech Cybernetic to offer additional smart-city focused services. To find out more, read the white paper: Smart Cities technology serving the community.