A study by Report Buyer states that smart city initiatives are gaining traction in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region due to increasing rates of urbanisation that have been placing pressure on city services. According to the United Nations, the urban population in the region increased from more than 20% in 1960 to about 45% by the end of 2015.

Scarcity of resources and rapidly expanding cities are also pushing governments to implement smart solutions to ensure the sustainability of various city services. Spending on the technologies that enable smart city initiatives is forecast to reach $1.26bn for MEA in 2018, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Middle Eastern governments recognise the role that smart cities can play in responding to the dramatic population growth they have witnessed in the past few decades, and the region has been upgrading and rolling out new tools, services, and infrastructure to meet its rapidly evolving transportation, water-management, and urban-planning needs.

In Saudi Arabia, smart city projects are gaining momentum, with many being built on greenfield sites. The kingdom has announced plans for a $500bn (SAR1.9tn) mega-city called Neom to be built on the Red Sea. 

The city will be a technology-powered destination that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to give residents and workers a connected lifestyle previously unavailable in Saudi Arabia. All services and processes in Neom will be 100% automated as it strives to become known as the most efficient destination in the world. In addition, Neom will be subject to the highest sustainability standards, and will complete transactions, procedures, and claims via paperless and electronic means.

In the UAE, Silicon Park is the first smart city project in Dubai, and boasts smart solutions ranging from charging docks located in the park for mobile devices, to smart transport systems such as optimally designed bus shelters that offer free Internet for customers, and smart kiosks that can be used to purchase mobile airtime top-ups and make bill payments. 

The goal is for Silicon Park to play a significant role in the country’s overall economic development going forwards, as well as in leading the development and training of local talent in advanced technology manufacturing modules.

Smart city projects revolve around the main verticals of transportation and mobility, security, environmental and social sustainability, and public services. However, the focus of smart city solutions significantly varies from one city to another in the region. For instance, African cities have been focusing on transportation and utilities, while more affluent countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are focusing on improving the efficiency of public services, and on other aspects of smart cities, including security.