x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Middle East has edge when it comes to smart cities

The Life: Nathalie Leboucher, the head of the Smart Cities programme at Orange Business Services, explains how cities in the Middle East can benefit from adopting smart technology.

King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh is a good example of a regional commitment to greenfield projects.
King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh is a good example of a regional commitment to greenfield projects.

Nathalie Leboucher is the head of the Smart Cities programme at Orange Business Services, the business services arm of France Telecom-Orange. Here, she explains how cities in the Middle East can benefit from adopting smart technology.

What is a "smart city"?

It is a city that uses all possible ITC - information technology and communications - tools to optimise its way of functioning. We are very focused on infrastructure projects like resource management - water, gas, electricity - or transportation.

You took over as head of the programme in September 2011. What have you achieved?

The first important thing for us was to define the vision: what is a smart city, what can we do in this sector, what are our strengths, what added value can we provide to the customer? We invest in pilot projects and already have some large-scale deployments. In one area of Paris we have deployed nearly 1 million smart meters [real-time measurements of water consumption that allow people and companies to better manage their water use] as part of a joint venture with Veolia Water. At the moment it's only a French project but we hope that soon in the Gulf we might be able to deploy this kind of project because the water resource problem is a big problem in the region. Saving water or having water being consumed as it should is important.

Have you done anything in the transport sector?

We are providing 5 million Sim cards to car manufacturers. These will be put in the cars right at the plant when the cars are manufactured. This project is really a kind of revolution for in-car connectivity because today only about 4 per cent of cars in Europe have connectivity. These are mainly [luxury] German cars or small trucks that are part of a fleet. Starting from this year we will see a big increase in connectivity in cars because in new models this will be included quite systematically as a new service. It should grow quite rapidly and we want to contribute to that.

Car connectivity? Tell me more about that.

If you have an electric vehicle, it's interesting to know the battery life and with connectivity you can know where the closest recharging booth is. The second important use is having infotainment in the car: streaming music, the radio and things like that. Once you have connectivity in your car - and this is more in the future - you see examples of augmented reality projects where, for example, I will be in a street in Dubai and on my screen I will be able to see information about the buildings.

And is the Middle East an important region for you?

It's very important because here we see a lot of greenfield projects which is not the same as in old Europe. By greenfield I mean like Masdar City or the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. There was nothing and we have the opportunity to build them from scratch. This means you can interconnect the different services right from the beginning, which is something you cannot do in an existing city.

lgutcher@thenational.ae