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Telecom Review catches up with Safder Nazir, regional VP Smart Cities & IoT at Huawei, to examine how Dubai has become a global pioneer in smart city planning, and what lessons its journey holds for other metropolises on the road to digital transformation.

How are you working with the government to create a smart city in Dubai?
At Huawei, we are ultimately driven by a desire to build a better connected world. That can only be done through strong, long-term partnerships with the public sector, which we have built over more than 15 years here in the Middle East.

In tandem with government entities in Dubai, Huawei is today identifying new ways in which city planners can use ICT to enhance performance of public systems and promote overall wellbeing and happiness. This involves reducing costs and resource consumption at an organizational level as well as helping citizens engage more effectively with city services. Huawei does this through our unique and comprehensive "cloud - pipe - device" ICT strategy. Our end-to-end capabilities have been of particular value in the development of smart city initiatives in which we are joining our unparalleled expertise across the carrier, enterprise and consumer ICT markets. With that in mind, some of the latest innovations we are focusing on right now are in the domain of IoT applications, cloud computing, mobility, software-defined networking, 4G LTE and the future build up to 5G mobile connectivity.

From planning better connected hospitals and transport systems to providing high speed mobile broadband for the internet of things era, we are proud to support Dubai's smart city vision on many fronts.

How far away is Dubai from becoming a smart city?
It's a fair question, more so because of its serious business implications. Everything from cars to medical devices will be connected and linked through mobile network as experts predict over 30 billion IoT connections will be established by 2025 at a market value of up to $1.6 trillion. We consider smart cities as a journey and prefer to talk about smarter cities as a program of continuous improvements. So it's always a case of becoming a smarter city, which is a relative measure rather than an absolute.

The internet of things will, however, require massive access capabilities over wireless networks. The advancement of 4.5G mobile broadband will make these cellular IoT applications a reality. 4.5G (LTE Advanced Pro) is a natural evolution of LTE and will be able to support new business opportunities and an improved user experience through the enhancement of the mobile network's capacity. Regional rollouts of 4.5G have already begun, and with that, the introduction of what is known as Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) designed specifically for IoT communications will become a natural evolution of existing city-wide infrastructure.

How does Dubai compare to other metropolises worldwide in terms of its development to become a smart city?
In Dubai and the wider UAE, the adoption of a smart city vision is being championed by both the public and private sector - born out of recognition for the benefits behind the real and digital worlds converging. Coupled with the reduced barriers natural to being a young city, Dubai really has been a global pioneer in driving more intelligent and connected city systems.

Of course there are challenges along that journey, but they are similar ones to what we see on a global scale. There is no doubt Dubai is already recognized as one of the smartest cities around and we can have every confidence that with such a strong vision, leadership and systematic program in place Dubai could well be ranking in top place in the near future. As all places with a smart city program are making improvements, it's down to which ones can execute successfully at the fastest pace. As we know, Dubai has an excellent track record in doing that, and the technological innovations being developed and adopted especially in the domain of IoT will enable this further.

Do you think Dubai has an advantage or disadvantage with it being a relatively new city?
It is important that leaders of smart city programs are clear on what they are trying to achieve and why. Having a clear and consistent vision combined with strong leadership is a key success factor, and ultimately, Dubai has that as well as the advantage of being a relatively new city. The tech savvy population of Dubai will also help in the adoption of services through electronic means, whilst also enabling government services to be brought physically closer to different city districts.

Is Huawei involved in other parts of the world when it comes to smart cities?
Quite extensively, yes. Huawei has a wealth of experience in smart city initiatives as well as offering the most comprehensive ICT portfolio in the industry today. Globally we have provided smart city solutions for over 60 cities across more than 20 countries and regions. This includes projects related to: smart government, safe city, smart transport, smart hospitals, smart education, smart grids and many more.

Do you see any negatives to smart city developments today?
To ensure the success of a smart city program once it has been initiated, I believe there also needs to be change management programs to focus on citizen engagement and making the visibility of the smart city progress clear. If planned properly, a smart city initiative should impact the daily lives of real people in a positive way. Communicating these benefits will help citizens stay engaged and supportive of new services as they are rolled out. It's a win-win scenario. In fact, the only downside I could see in a smart city initiative is if there is a great idea that is not justly communicated to local citizens and hence doesn't see high adoption.

What has been the feedback so far from government partners globally in building smart cities?
The mega trend of building smart cities will drive urban development. Governments around the world want smart cities to enable efficient management, reliable operations, convenient services and eco-friendly economic growth. Recent statistics show that over 1,000 smart city projects have been started or are underway in Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. We see this as an indication that the feedback on smart city initiative is overwhelmingly positive.

What benefits can residents in the Middle East region look forward to over the course of 2016?
The value of smart city initiatives has already become noticeable. Across the Gulf region in particular, governments have placed great emphasis and resources on ICT initiatives that improve the interaction between citizens, business, cities and governments. In places like the UAE, for example, over 95 percent of the government's most important services that are used by citizens on a day to day basis have made the smart transition to mGovernment and mServices.

Nevertheless, ensuring noticeable, reliable, and convenient city services cannot be done today without the right building blocks. As Huawei continues to provide solutions and services to multiple industries including healthcare, education, finance, transportation and energy, to name a few, standardizing more components of ICT infrastructure - particularly in the IoT era - will help foster this necessary development.

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