The Impact of Technology on Dubai’s Smart City Initiatives

The winning city for Expo 2020 and superlative goals set aside, Dubai has earned a reputation worldwide to be one of the fastest growing cities globally. From it’s humble origins as a trading hub in the desert, Dubai has also grown to become an extremely popular tourist destination with an aim of attracting around 20million visitors by 2020 – which will double its 2016 figures.1 Among initiatives and programs announced frequently to catapult Dubai’s growth, the launch of the Dubai Smart City project is by far the most all-encompassing initiative under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai.

At the heart of the Smart Dubai initiative, technology is the driving force that will harness services across different sectors such as transport, healthcare and education via smart systems.2 The chosen metric to measure ultimate success of the smart initiatives is: happiness. The ‘happiness’ measures the improvement of the quality of life of residents and the experience of tourists.


To spearhead this ambitious goal, Dubai’s smart city strategy includes over 100 initiatives and a plan to transform 1,000 government services into smart services. The project aims to encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors to achieve targets in six ‘smart’ focus areas: smart life, smart transportation, smart society, smart economy, smart governance and smart environment. The strategy relies on three basic principles: communication, integration and cooperation.4 Each implementation will leverage a robust information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure to help create initiatives that are labeled as ‘smart and innovative.2

Across Dubai, there are already experimental initiatives with 3D printing, drones, wearable devices, IoT sensory systems, advanced analytics, robotics, driverless vehicles, virtual reality and artificial intelligence applications. Collectively, these cutting-edge experimental attempts by private sector entities, academia and government bodies are contributing to building the city of the future.5 As Paul Black director of Telecoms and Media at IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa said, “Smart city is a collection of technologies and solutions that orchestrate the functioning of various sectors with the purpose to making the functioning of a city smarter. It can’t be a sector-focused activity as it can lead to an unbalanced development of smart city ecosystem.”


The concept of a smart and sustainable city is based on leveraging the power of data and the use of technology to minimise energy, waste and resource consumption; and to attain a higher quality of life by engaging more effectively and actively with residents. Each of Dubai’s strategic partners have been instrumental in rolling out initiatives under the Smart Dubai strategy to realize the monetary and soft benefits alike across the following sectors that make up a smart city:

Telecom: Seamless, end-to-end connectivity is a key enabler for all aspects of smart cities o In 2014, Du announced it would create 5,000 hotspots to offer free wi-fi at 100 locations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Du promised to offer free, unlimited, fast access to government apps; low-bandwidth free wi-fi; and paid premium, high-bandwidth wi-fi. o Etisalat and Huawei recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding which will deepen the strategic partnerships in new areas such as Public Cloud, Software-Defined Networking (SDN), and Network Function Virtualization (NFV).

Transport: Residents rely on transportation systems to commute, travel and transport essential goods o The RTA announced the transition of all its applicable services to smart apps. With the help of nine mobile apps, RTA offers 173 services that help people complete transactions with a tap on their smartphone. The apps available on all smart phone platforms include Smart Drive, Wojhati, Smart Salik, Smart Parking, Smart Taxi, Drivers and Vehicles, Public Transport, Corporate Services and RTA Dubai. o The RTA has developed a bicycle master plan that covers 900 km of bikeways over the next few years. According to the master plan, a series of bikeways will be connected to mass transit systems to encourage greater integration.

Healthcare: New technologies have the potential to change the delivery, efficacy and efficiency of healthcare services in cities

o Dubai launched a smart healthcare project with three main initiatives – smart applications, smart operations and smart hospitals. o Dubai is also planning to implement Electronic Medical Records and a Hospital Information System by 2015. These will enable easy electronic access to a patient’s file, which contains all the details necessary to know the health status of the patient and the results of any tests, Xrays and records of doctors’ visit. o Dubai Healthcare Authority (DHA) is also exploring the possibilities of implementing telemedicine initiatives

Buildings: Smart cities must adopt new policies and technologies to make buildings more energy efficient and environmentally friendly in order to improve their residents’ health and quality of life

o Dubai’s Integrated Energy Strategy has an ambitious target of reducing energy and water demand by 30% by 2030. Reducing cooling requirements within buildings is a key focus area for the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and Dubai Municipality. o In 2010, the Dubai Municipality introduced a set of codes that promotes the use of energy saving systems, natural lighting systems and green building materials.

Utilities: Smart cities can employ new technologies to enable better water and wastewater management. DEWA plans to install 250,000 smart meters in all residential, industrial and commercial properties by 2018 as part of Dubai’s smart city initiative.

oDEWA will deploy smart-grid to automate grid-control decisions and to deliver new services to consumers, allowing them to automate and control their power consumption. o DEWA planstoimplementsolutionsforsolarpowerinhouses.Itisalsodevelopingsmartapps, building infrastructure and charging stations for electric vehicles.

Tourism: Smart tourism brings together a variety of smart city concepts and aims to promote tourism through the innovative use of ICT

o Smart tourism concepts have been adopted. An example of this is the tour guide system “Nahaam’, launched by the RTA, which gives tourists information about the landscapes and routes. o Dubai Airport’s smart gate system which has dramatically shortened immigration waiting time for passengers through electronic identification. o Dubai’sDepartment of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has introduced e-Permit and eTicketing platforms to support and develop Dubai’s growing events sector

Education: A smart education system using technology helps open the door to richer learning tools and encourages more engaging teaching techniques

o Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) recently introduced a smart e-Services portal for universities and an updated system for schools and training institutes which allows its customers to connect directly to KHDA, saving time and paperwork and improving customer satisfaction. o Dubai also launched a new smart learning initiative in 2012 that aims to transform classrooms as well as integrate teachers, students, parents and administrators into a single e-platform.

Public Safety: Changes in the external environment have led to the need for smart public safety using intelligence to help make informed decisions about general safety

o TheDubai Police app includes a handful of critical Dubai Police online services,whichcanbe accessed on a mobile phone. These services include customers accessing and paying their fines; applying for a good conduct certificate; reporting traffic violations or crimes to the police; providing a list of pharmacies which are open; and traffic services. o Dubai Police was one of the first organizations in the world to use Google Glass,allowing officers to identify road users who have outstanding warrants through their number plates. The use of Google Glass is part of Dubai Police’s ambition to develop the ‘smartest’ police stations in the world by 2018. o Dubai Police plans to launch its first intelligent robot officer-Robocop-within two years.The humanoid officer will provide all Dubai Police services to the public in six languages, much like a human policeman. The robot will move around in public areas such as shopping malls, and will communicate with, and provide information to, the public without human interference.


The joint effort between the private and public sector thus far is only proves that Dubai is well on its way to fulfilling the Smart Dubai strategy. With legislation and governance frameworks in place, the city is now in a race to meet its smart goals ahead of the 2020 World Expo.2 Since the rollout in 2003, Smart Dubai Government (the technology arm of Smart Dubai) has seen the emirate save Dh4.3 billion through the SDG plan over 12 years.7

As it stands now, the stage is set for Dubai that has adopted unique ways to transforming itself to truly what may become a global smart city by 2020 and beyond, consequently creating a more happier resident and visitor.


1 Dubai Tourism: 2020 2 Smart Dubai White Paper: A Collaborative Approach to Smart City Transformation, November 2015. 3 The National: satisfaction-of-government-services

4 KPMG: Dubai – A New Paradigm for Smart Cities, July 2015. 5 Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government: A Smart City for Public Value, 2016. 6 Comms MEA: 7 Smart Dubai: