Dubai to become Wi-Fi internet ‘smart city’ under Sheikh Mohammed vision

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has announced on Twitter the plan to increase Wi-Fi penetration across the city.

Wi-Fi is to rolled out across Dubai, but it is not yet clear whether it will be completely free access or limited to government services. (Photo courtesy of Chris Hatfield)
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DUBAI // Wireless internet access could become available across the city under the latest plans to turn Dubai into a “smart city”.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has announced on Twitter a plan to increase Wi-Fi penetration across the city.

“The project aims to provide all Dubai residents with high-speed internet in public places, and live services and information,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted on Saturday.

“The Dubai Smart City project involves remote sensor devices all over Dubai. Education, health care and general security will be managed via smart systems.

“City management today requires new tools and a new thinking. We want to create a new reality for our people, a different life for our children and a new global development model.”

The announcement was made on the eve of Gitex Technology Week, which begins on Sunday at Dubai World Trade Centre.

It is not clear whether the project would involve an open, free Wi-Fi network, or a closed 3G connection limited to connections to eGovernment services only.

It will “enable the public to transact with public departments using smartphones any time, any day of the year”, the state news agency Wam reported.

Sheikh Mohammed launched an m-government initiative this year through which utility bills, road tolls and traffic fines could be paid by smartphone.

Dubai Smart Government was established to push through the initiative, and dozens of new applications are expected to be announced at Gitex.

Municipal Wi-Fi has been available at spots around the world since 2004, but has had varying degrees of success in its current form.

One of the most notable recent examples is the city of Santa Clara in California, which installed free Wi-Fi across the city in March using smart utility meters.

Smart meters communicate with utility providers over a Wi-Fi network, and from there it was a short step to extend it to a citywide network.

Ahmad bin Humaidan, director general of Dubai Smart Government, said the development of smart electricity meters was “in progress”.

But Mr bin Humaidan declined to say whether it would be related to the wider municipal Wi-Fi network.

“What I understand is that internet will be available even in the public areas,” he said. “It’s more than that, though, it’s a smart city. The internet is just the enablement.

“It’s for the people, to make life easier and to give them more happiness.”

Nader Baghdadi, regional sales director for US wireless equipment maker Ruckus Wireless, said Dubai was already leading the way in the region for providing high-speed internet, 3G services and Wi-Fi within different organisations.

“This is an excellent vision to create smart cities and an environment where people have fast access to information,” Mr Baghdadi said.

“When you implement Wi-Fi backbone and a smart city backbone, that gives the ability to people to access information fast at any time.”

It was not clear how the citywide Wi-Fi would interact with 3G mobile phone networks provided by Etisalat and du.

Dean Hoke, manager for member relations at Ankabut, a high-speed networking project operated by Khalifa University, said citwide Wi-Fi could affect the telecoms operator’s profit.

“I know that in the US the likes of Verizon and AT&T have been fearful of what appears to be citywide, free Wi-Fi,” Mr Hoke said.

But he said it could have amazing benefits for residents.

“I think it would be a bit of a challenge,” Mr Hoke said. “There’s a fair amount of work that needs to be done in setting up the stations, making sure that the Wi-Fi coverage is available in all places.

“I’m surprised but I think it’s a clever idea. It’s also kind of cool.”