Rebooted: A tale of two cities

  • Joji Philip, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 28, 2014 13:11 IST

Singapore is smart but it strives to be smarter in about a decade, riding a revolutionary forward-looking design it believes will prove the smartest way to achieving its goal of creating a wired infrastructure to satiate each citizen's everyday needs - and whims, perhaps - at the tap of a smartphone screen.

The Singapore model has all the trappings to tickle Cyber Babu, the endearing nickname Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu has earned as an acknowledgement of the ahead-of-its-time e-governance he pursued when he held the post in 1995-2004.

Naidu, who now rules a slimmer and trimmer Andhra Pradesh, is probably looking for the south-east Asian city's smartness to rub off on his state's proposed grand capital - coming up in the picturesque Guntur-Vijayawada region straddling the gently flowing Krishna.

He has entrusted Singapore with the task of building a modern, vibrant and sustainable futuristic capital that will set an example for others to follow.

The smartness is not based on some smug concept floating about on the Internet but on a real design and vision that Singapore premier Lee Hsien Loong has outlined, to transport his city into the league of smart nations. The master plan involves topping the city's new physical infrastructure with a digital layer of data analytics, sensor networks, information communication and phone apps.

The good thing about the partnership is that policy makers of both cities know where they are heading. It was not a coincidence that when Singapore and Andhra Pradesh were signing MoUs in Hyderabad recently, the island nation at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula was seeking proposals for its 10-year plan on an electric car-sharing scheme.

The plan was to make the smart city a 'car-lite' nation, where zero-emission electric vehicles would just be a tap on a smartphone away. The logistics involve new parking spaces and battery charging stations across the city. Car-lite is among a basket of concepts that Singapore believes will catapult the smart city to a smarter nation by 2020.

Fireworks mark the creation of India's newest state of Telangana, carved out of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (Left), Merlion statue, Singapore (Top right), Andhra Pradesh on its way to being a modern, futuristic capital (Photos: Reuters and AP)

Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of Singapore's smart nation programme office, says more public data would be made available to the private sector to enable it to develop apps that will help perk up the city's livability factor.

"The data we use in our apps will also be available to private developers, and if they create apps more interesting, more relevant, more useful, then that becomes the dominant app," he says. "But this is an iterative process and the key point is to break barriers between government agencies and even between government and the people and the private sector. So a key word there is sharing... That you can derive value by sharing information."

Andhra Pradesh's new capital will be built around the same timelines Singapore has set for itself to become a smart nation. This gives the future city the unique advantage to turn into the third leg of an Indian success story and demonstrate that cities in our country can emulate the smart nation concept even before its infrastructure completely takes shape.
India has done it before and a couple of recent success stories illustrate how.

The first experience of a telephone for most Indians has been a cellphone, and with more than 900 million cellular connections, most of the country bypassed fixed lines. Mobility has ensured that teledensity in urban India, which was at single digits at the beginning of the century, is now well over 100% and even higher than 200% in some cities.

"We project mobile data subscribers to expand from 198 million as of FY14 to 501 million by FY18 and data traffic to jump sevenfold, making it a compelling `883 billion (US $15 billion) annual revenue opportunity," global brokerage firm CLSA states in a report.

This implies that the first internet experience for the vast majority of India's population will be on their handhelds rather than a personal computer.
India's competitive mobility segment, led by the private sector, has broken development and access barriers that had plagued the country - low literacy, high poverty, poor infrastructure and unaffordable costs for the country's rural population.

India has the wherewithal such as IT capabilities, multi-billion-dollar software giants, R&D centres and an army of software engineers, to become a global powerhouse in building a smart nation's key components - communications backbone, sensor networks, data analytics and practical applications.

The partnership between India and Singapore can also open up a world of opportunities for infocomm industries in both countries. It can provide the scale and business opportunities to power start-ups in emerging sectors such as intelligent transport, smart education and smart environment management, cloud computing, mobile internet and the "internet of things".
This can be later replicated in other cities across India, and even globally.

(Joji Philip is a Singapore-based correspondent for Mint)

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