Abu Dhabi and Dubai 'well positioned' to quickly achieve advanced smart city status

Emirates have 'perfect playground' in terms of infrastructure and innovative ecosystems of people and industries who share the same vision

Delegates and guests listen to a presentation at the inaugural Abu Dhabi 6G Summit. Victor Besa / The National
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Abu Dhabi and Dubai are “well positioned” to be at the forefront of becoming full-fledged smart cities, with several initiatives, particularly those involving 6G technologies, being tabled to help the transition to a futuristic digital economy, a top researcher at the Technology Innovation Institute said.

Both emirates have launched several programmes to advance research and development into the upcoming sixth generation of wireless networks, which is attracting top players globally, said Thierry Lestable, executive director of the AI and Digital Science Research Centre at Abu Dhabi's TII.

The two cities are a “perfect playground in terms of the infrastructure being built … and they have innovative ecosystems of people and industries who share the same vision and are deploying these technologies for the benefit of society”, he told The National in an interview at the inaugural Abu Dhabi 6G Summit.

A smart city utilises the latest information and communications technologies to seamlessly connect people and devices, improve operational efficiency and boost economic activity overall.

Abu Dhabi already leads the Middle East in the global smart city index, ranking 28th, a 2021 report from the Institute for Management Development and the Singapore University for Technology and Design showed. Dubai is right behind in 29th. Both emirates jumped 14 places from their 2020 positions.

Both emirates, and the UAE in general, are promoting the use of smart technologies to accelerate their agenda of becoming knowledge-based economies in the era of digital transformation.

Abu Dhabi is already conducting field trials, testing and deploying vehicles that are connected to smart infrastructure, Mr Lestable said.

It is also moving ahead with trial programmes for drone deliveries, and this month, it is expected that autonomous taxi minibuses will be used for the first time at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Dubai, on the other hand, has a smart traffic management system that cuts congestion and emergency response times. It is also planning to put about 4,000 driverless taxis on its roads by 2030.

The UAE also ranked first in the Middle East in the 2021 edition of the Global Innovation Index, cementing its status among the world’s leading countries in adopting the latest technology.

Meanwhile, total foreign direct investment in the UAE, the Arab world's second-largest economy, hit $20.7 billion in 2021, more than doubling over the past decade, the Ministry of Economy recently announced.

Dubai remained the world's top destination for foreign direct investment in the first half of 2022, attracting inflows of $3.74bn on 492 projects, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism said in a report this week, underscoring its efforts to position itself as a hub for advanced technology.

Mr Lestable could not provide an estimate for how many investments are needed to develop 6G technologies but acknowledged “it is a lot of money, for sure”.

For context, the European Commission created the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking programme in November last year, which is mandated to accelerate digital transition and 6G research with a European Union-backed budget of €900 million ($879.6m) through 2027.

The most important return on investment (RoI) smart cities can provide is their ability to reduce harmful emissions, in line with global climate change commitments, and the well-being they will provide to those residing in them.

“The ratio of benefit for business use cases relying on mobile networks compared with other industries is 20 to 1. In terms of RoI, for the fight against change, they would be able to fight 20 times more,” Mr Lestable said.

How can 6G accelerate the development of smart cities?

6G promises even faster speeds and more efficiency compared with the latest 5G technology. It is expected to enhance the capability of today's 5G networks by 100 times. Latency, the delay between sending and receiving information, will be reduced by a factor of 10 to 0.1 millisecond while the energy efficiency of networks will drop by a factor of 100.

Use cases and industries that are already benefiting from 5G stand to benefit significantly more from 6G, Mr Lestable said.

In communications, 6G will be able to provide ubiquitous connectivity, which allows any or all devices to interact seamlessly.

“6G will get all of that converged, and it will find its way to push the boundaries in terms of data rates and speeds of communications,” Mr Lestable said.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai have innovative ecosystems of people and industries who share the same vision and are deploying these technologies for the benefit of society
Thierry Lestable, executive director of the AI and Digital Science Research Centre

Robots are expected to be used for several purposes, such as in hotels and offices, and the networks, which will help ensure safety and reliability.

“The form factors of robots will be different as they need to be acceptable to ensure their integration with intended purposes will work smoothly, and be optimal in terms of features and functions,” Mr Lestable said.

The healthcare industry would see more remote interactions between medical practitioners and patients. This is already being practised at present, but highly advanced procedures such as remote surgery will become more widespread, as it will capitalise on 6G speeds.

In agriculture, farms connected to 6G networks would be able to utilise drones to water crops and apply fertilisers. Smart farming is already happening, but 6G will allow for faster and more accurate data gathering, Mr Lestable said.

“All of these mean you will get economic growth with smart cities,” he said.

Updated: November 05, 2022, 4:30 AM