Smart Cities in Southeast Asia: Resilience, Sustainability, Mobility, Safety, and Economic Development

2Q 2019 | IN-5487


Diverse Urban Challenges and Drivers for Adopting Smart Cities Approaches


Cities across Southeast Asian countries face a diverse set of challenges. These range from putting in place basic infrastructure to fuel the local economy in some of the poorest countries like Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia to making sure that the economy is not coming to a halt in the more developed and/or fast-growing economies like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, which are facing increasing levels of congestion, pollution, and pressures from tourism, prompting sustainability efforts ranging from vehicle electrification and car sharing to eco-tourism and renewable energy generation. As an extreme measure to counter urbanization problems, the Philippines has embarked on building two cities from scratch, New Manila Bay and New Clarke City, deploying state-of-the-art livability and sustainability paradigms for the city of the future.

Additionally, issues common to most cities in Southeast Asia include vulnerability to natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes, and typhoons as well as inequality (urban-rural divide) and road safety. This is prompting initiatives linked to resilience, social inclusion, and an increased focus on the prevention of traffic fatalities (Thailand has one of the highest road traffic death rates in the world).

Singapore, the only fully developed country in Southeast Asia, is a leader in the adoption of smart cities technologies, even on a global level. It is setting the example for other cities in Southeast Asia in terms of best practices for smart mobility, transportation and freight, remote education, healthcare and telemedicine, safety (video surveillance), smart utilities, digital twins, e-government, and many other areas. For Southeast Asia, urbanization is not only linked to megacities like Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City, but will also be driven by strong growth of medium-sized cities with less than 2 million residents, a second wave of rapidly spreading urbanization.

National and International Cooperation and Frameworks


Recently, both national and international smart cities initiatives have been launched in Southeast Asia. Most important, in April 2018, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) was established as a cooperative effort and framework to standardize, promote, and share best practices. Twenty-six ASCN Pilot Cities have initially been selected from across the 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS). ASCN goals include exploring complementarities, facilitating cooperation with and funding by the private sector, and seeking support from external partners and financial institutions. Other projects include the creation of an ASEAN Smart Cities Framework specifying definitions of a smart city, main principles, and desired outcomes, and the Twinning Programme aimed at linking each member city with an external ASEAN partner to work on smart city development.

Similarly, many governments of ASEAN countries have initiated some form of smart city framework. For example, Thailand set a target to develop 100 cities within two decades as part of its Thailand 4.0 initiative aimed at transforming the economy into a digital economy. Initial pilot cities included Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Khon Kaen, later expanded with the Eastern Economic Corridor in Chon Buri, Rayong, Bangkok, and Chachoengsao. To this end, the National Smart City Committee was established. The Smart City Alliance Thailand consists of state agencies, companies, and academics, and is aimed at developing and deploying smart city standards.

Is Southeast Asia a New Opportunity for Smart Cities Technology Providers?


Clearly, awareness about the critical importance of smart cities is growing fast across the ASEAN region. With very few home-grown technology brands based in Southeast Asia, ASEAN cities need to look abroad for sourcing technology, support, and even financing. Examples of suppliers that have worked with ASEAN cities include ABB (Ho Chi Minh City, water management solution powered by the Ability Symphony Plus SCADA digital control and monitoring platform), Cisco (Hanoi, telemedicine technology), Alibaba (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia City Brain powered by Alibaba Cloud), Dassault Systèmes (Virtual Singapore 3D Model enabled by the 3DEXPERIENCE platform), Siemens (Bangkok, rail-bound rapid transit), and Fujitsu (Jakarta Flood Information Platform (JAFIP)).

Southeast Asia has long been neglected by the technology supplier ecosystem. However, with a total population of more than 640 million and some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the opportunity in Southeast Asia is real, even if many projects are still in their infancy. Vendors investing now will reap the benefits in the long term. This will be covered in more detail in the upcoming ABI Research report Smart City Case Studies in Southeast Asia.