Wirelessly managing streetlights to cut the cost of energy. Sensors providing real-time alerts on water leaks and air pollution. Intelligent management of public transport and road networks to avoid congestion. These are just some of the benefits a ‘smart city’ could provide, and if authorities and investors succeed, these advancements could be coming to Hanoi in the near future.

Plans are already in place to turn Vietnam’s capital into a smart city by 2030, with priority areas identified as health, education, transport and tourism. Taken together, the application of technology in these areas will bring significant improvements to residents’ quality of life and boost the city’s tourism potential.

Hanoi has already applied smart systems to monitor car parking in some districts, and an anticipated roll-out of this technology across the whole city aims to provide information on traffic status and better manage public passenger transport.

Similar implementations are planned for other sectors. With input and investment from major foreign players, the city sees the deployment of modern IT infrastructure utilising the Internet of Things (IoT). Citizens will be connected to their homes and primary services, as well as traffic infrastructure and vital information about their environment. For this to happen successfully, work is needed to set up modern infrastructure in transport, healthcare and education.

In order for these systems to be implemented and managed effectively, foreign know-how will be needed.

Intelligent implementation

According to local authorities, the process of transforming Hanoi into a smart city will take place over three phases. The first, from 2016 to 2020, will consist of building the foundations and infrastructure needed, as well as implementing smart applications in traffic, tourism, environmental management and security.

The second phase, from 2020 to 2025, smart city solutions will be put into operation and a digital economy will be formed. In the third phase, from 2025 to 2030, the different parts of the project will be connected and Hanoi will become a functioning smart city.

The capital city is not alone. According to the Ministry of Information and Communications, the government has set a target of creating five smart cities by 2020, and is designing

criteria for such projects, making it more convenient for foreign investors to jump in.

The southern hub, Ho Chi Minh City, has its own plans to get ‘smart’ in the near future. Tran Vinh Tuyen, deputy chairman of the city People’s Committee and head of the smart city management board plans “a comfortable, positive, healthy and safe living environment with convenient public transportation, good healthcare, less crime and clean water and environment.”

In addition to these benefits, smart cities will bring sustainable economic growth, and help develop a digital, knowledge-based economy. Such moves are sure to generate interest and attract investment.

Not all plain sailing

Domestic firms like Viettel, VNPT, FPT, and CMC are keen to get involved with the development of smart cities in Vietnam. Various countries with experience in smart cities have also expressed a desire to cooperate with Hanoi in this endeavour. In particular, leaders from Singapore have shown a willingness to partner with Vietnam on hi-tech parks and software industrial zones, as well as working together on the smart city project. In addition to funding, Singapore is ready to provide training and support to implement and manage smart city technology and software.

With Vietnam continuing to grow rapidly, concerns over rising energy demands are high on the agenda. As a key component of a smart city, a greater focus will be needed on green and sustainable energy if the country is to successfully fuel onward growth.

There is clearly a lot of potential in this sector, however, energy is just one challenge standing in the way. Specifically, Hanoi faces problems in ICT infrastructure, traffic congestion, water shortages, wastewater treatment and increasing environmental pollution. A dearth of qualified human resources will also present difficulties in implementing some of the proposed solutions.

However, for many sites, construction has yet to begin. A lack of clear regulations is proving to be a major roadblock for the development of smart cities, with the implementation of a US$37.3 billion smart city in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district struggling to get off the ground. More than 20 large Japanese firms, including Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Panasonic and Tokyo Metro have signed up to provide various services but are yet to begin work.

The 310 hectare project will be designed by Nikken Sekkei Group and is expected to be completed in 2023, if they get the green light.

In this case it is authorities lagging behind in the provision of clear criteria. The novelty of such projects is one issue, with city leaders unsure on how these new developments will fit into existing city-planning norms.

If the target of five smart cities by 2020 is to be met, the government will need to come up with some clear and detailed legislation soon, so that both investors and authorities are happy with the planned projects. Of course, updating regulations in Vietnam can prove to be a drawn-out affair and investors may be waiting some time before ground is broken on the cities of the future.