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The Power of Connectivity

By Saeed A. Baloch

Building smart cities in Pakistan: a way forward.

The smart city movement seems to be sweeping Pakistan. There is an ongoing debate about it in both government and private sector circles. The Government of Pakistan believes that to keep pace with a fast-changing and developing world, the transformation of large urban centers into smart cities has become a need of the hour.

In Brief

  • Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) expects there to be 47 million mobile broadband users by 2020 and 70 million by 2025. The overall number of broadband users is expected to grow exponentially. As ever, enhanced digital connectivity les at the heart of any smart city initiative.
  • The Safe City Project highlights the governments’ strong commitment towards turning big urban centers into smart cities through the use of technology to enhance safety and security for citizens.

This realization is directly associated with the integration of multiple Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), including mobile phone technology powered by services like 3G/4G and 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

The Punjab government seems to have taken the lead over other provincial regimes by starting a number of initiatives in terms of connectivity, improving efficacy and performance of various departments’ inner workings and their operational capabilities. Some of these projects are the Safe City Project, smart monitoring system of schools and, open and real time data of educational institutions or online college admission application forms.

The Punjab government has undertaken as many as 15 computerization and automation projects, to enhance efficiency and performance of its Counter Terrorism, Police, Transport, Health, Livestock, Revenue, Agriculture, Law, Home and other departments, as well as the Lahore High Court, district courts, city district governments, and TMAs (Tehsil Municipal Administrations).

Read more: Introducing Smart Policing

Pakistan Vision 2025 and Smart Cities

In line with this strategy, the Pakistan government has made the concept of smart cities an integral part of its ‘Vision 2025’ strategy and planners have submitted a blueprint to the federal government. At present, the government seems to be putting together all available resources for early completion of its ongoing Safe Cities project. “So far, the government’s focus is on the timely completion of the safe cities project,” says Khwaja Ahmad Hassaan, advisor to chief minister Punjab. “Once it is completed, the government will initiate working on the smart cities project,” he adds.

“Making cities smart will take time, commitment and effort. However, it is critical to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment,” states a presentation “Smart Cities Framework for Pakistan – Enabling Transformation” submitted to the government by planners Muhammad Aslam Mughal and Nadeem Khursheed. Giving background and rationale of the concept of smart cities, the planners say: “The growth of the world’s population in the coming years will lead to a period of extreme urbanization. By 2030, it is expected that 60 percent of the global population will live in cities.”

About the concept of the smart city, they say: “It emerged as the combination of Smart Growth and Intelligent Cities”. Giving reference of Pakistan Vision 2025, the planners  go on to say: “Share of urban population in Pakistan has increased from 32 percent in 1998 to 40 percent today. If current trends of rural to urban migration continue, this share will exceed 50 percent in 2025.  Currently, nine cities have populations exceeding one million each, and 75 with populations between 100,000 and one million.  Pakistan’s cities contribute 78 percent to the country’s GDP and 1 percent increase in urbanization leads to a 1.1 percent increase in the economic growth rate. The inability of the cities to absorb, comfortably accommodate, and meaningfully employ rural-to-urban migrants exacerbates social, ethnic tensions between native and migrant population.”

The technologies associated with smart cities have been identified, among others, as intelligent lighting,  smart building controls,  demand response,  LED lighting,  solar panels,  fuel cells,  wireless charging for automobiles,  facial recognition,  smart  waste management systems, transportation sensors,  wind turbines,  intelligent buildings,  micro and macro grid monitoring devices (GMDs),  low power semiconductors,  integrated transportation and a connected self-aware environment.

The government’s Vision-2025 envisions smart cities as having capability to adapt to increasing complexity and demand for knowledge, to have the ability to cope adequately with growing populations and size of the city with a view to providing public services, real-time updates on city traffic patterns, pollution, crime, parking spaces and availability of water and power.

According to the proposed plan, cities need to be properly equipped for transfer of large amounts of data instantaneously. This means Pakistan’s cities have to be digitally connected, equipped with wireless network sensors, and e-connectivity.

The stages vis-à-vis implementation of the proposed smart cities include conceptualization of smart cities, selection of cities for the proposed project, preparation of smart cities plan, projects identification by cities at local level, implementation of plan and projects at local level and lastly monitoring and evaluation at local level.

A three-tier setup has also been proposed to execute the plan of smart cities, i.e., establishment of a Smart Council at federal level, provision of Provincial Smart Authority at provincial level and local government advisory boards or development authority at the city level.

Initiatives such as the Metro Bus Service, the under construction Orange Line Metro Train, waste management services and safe cities project might seem to be isolated examples but are in fact part of the larger smart cities initiative.

The federal government has started doing homework and has taken the first step by making a roadmap of the proposed project of smart cities. “Safe cities project is the first stage, which will pave the way for moving towards the next stage,” points out Khwaja Ahmad Hassaan.

Read more: Lahore Cleans up Its Act

“The whole game is of information technology and interconnectivity whereby you have access to all necessary and required data at one place. This turns things easier and precise for you, and also improves the response of the government.” —Khwaja Ahmad Hassaan, advisor to chief minister Punjab.

Setting the Foundations for Tomorrow

“Work on laying down 15 kilometers of optical fiber in the city is in process,” confirms Malik Ali Amir, managing director of Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA), “this is going to replace police department’s traditional means of communication with 4G technology,” he asserts.

“The Lahore Safe City Project is five times bigger than that of Islamabad and the cost is far lower. When the project is completed, we will have full automation in our trafficking system with an integrated electronic and video-based ticketing (challan) system,” he says. Apart from that, he maintains, it will ensure precise accountability of the police department on the back of the available video recorded evidence required for the process. “Moreover, we will be able to have direct feedback from the public and media, particularly the social media. We will also have video secure communication with the public as well.” The deadline for completion of the project is June 2017. “We will have with us complete video secured communication, which is not only going to change the entire culture of the police department but also improve the response time of police and other law enforcement agencies in case of emergencies,” he says.

According to media reports, some time back a Danish company, reportedly having vast experience in transformation of smart cities in Middle East and Europe, had offered its services to the Government of Punjab to work on the smart city project.  “Yes, I remember some time ago, representatives of that company had given us a detailed and impressive presentation and I asked them to come up with a proper plan and working paper for the purpose,” says Hassan. “But after that they didn’t show up. When the government starts working on this project, it will invite bids from well-reputed companies for award of the contract in a transparent manner,” he explains.

Work on the Islamabad Safe City project is done and now it’s going on with a fast pace on Lahore Safe City project. “It’s not an easy task, but we will do it and hopefully the project will be functional by early next year,” Hassan says, who is also looking after the affairs of the Lahore Orange Line Train Project.  In his view, the real issue for the country is information technology and inter-connectivity, and the government is working on it.

Punjab Government’s Other Key Initiatives

Keeping in view, the growing importance of connectivity and the future needs, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has taken a number of initiatives, which include smart monitoring of different ongoing projects. Such efforts have reinvigorated the efficiency of various public sector departments.

According to Ahmad Naeem Malik, PITB’s spokesman, the Punjab government has started smart monitoring of public sector schools.  These initiatives include visiting over 50,000 schools every month, monitoring of school staff, statistics of students and teacher presence, etc. Under this project, the monitoring staff has been equipped with SIM enabled tablet PCs which allow them to digitally submit monitoring forms during their visits. “These steps have resulted in an increase in teachers’ attendance to 92.14 percent and in students’ attendance to over 90 percent. An increase of 95 percent has also been witnessed in inspections per visits of administrative staff,” says Naeem Malik.

Read more: Connecting the Unconnected

Free Open and Real Time Data of Schools

Under this initiative, a unique program has been started by uploading the monitoring data of over 50,000 schools of Punjab and nearly 11 million students with over 300,000 teachers. “The citizens have been provided open access to this real time data,” he points out.

Free, open, and real time data can be accessed at http://open.punjab.gov.pk/schools/

Dengue Activity Tracking System

In order to combat the menace of dengue virus, the PITB has devised an effective mechanism – ‘Dengue Activity System’- that logs all field activities regarding prevention and eradication of dengue in real time through GPS-enabled Android based mobile application. “This system has been successfully operational in all 36 districts of Punjab and more than 25 departments of the province,” notifies Naeem Malik, adding: “It played a key role in meeting a gigantic challenge in a very short span of time.”

IC3 System of Punjab Police

The Integrated Command, Control and Communication System (IC3) aims at improving police’s operational efficiency by deploying new hardware, using up-to-date technology that will enable the police department to adopt more efficient working practices and innovative concepts to further improve its performance.  Another objective of IC3 is putting together various segments of Punjab Police with a view to improving their working as a unified team. Under the pilot project, computerization of nearly 90 police stations has been done with complete automation of FIR and complaint lodging system.

Crime Investigation Reporting System

The purpose of this system is to assist police and other law enforcement agencies with provision of police station and division based analysis, and create insights on crime pockets and time sensitive crime patterns.

Online Application Forms Made Available for Over 700 Colleges

The introduction of online college applications is yet another milestone of the Punjab government, says Naeem Malik. “This year, over 700 colleges accepted online application forms. These online facilities are being offered for admission to FA, FSC and ICS or equivalent programs,” he says. “The system is based upon a collaborative relationship among the Higher Education Department Punjab, nine boards of intermediate and secondary education (BISEs), the Directorate of Public Instructions (DPI), the Bank of Punjab and the PITB.” The data of students is loaded into the system and it can be accessed by the students by entering information like roll number, year and session at the website: www.ocas.punjab.gov.pk.

The Rise of Pakistan’s IT Sector

Meanwhile, keeping in view the government’s agenda of smart cities, significance of IT and connectivity issues, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) – the federal body responsible for regulation of telecommunication and cellular service providers – has geared up to not only evaluate the existing state of affairs of IT sector in Pakistan but also to prepare for the needs of the cities of tomorrow.  In its report, the PTA Vision 2025, the telecom watchdog has expressed its optimism over the pace of growth of the mobile telecom sector in Pakistan. The current number of mobile broadband subscribers is around 5 million in Pakistan while the PTA expects 47 million mobile broadband users by 2020 and 79 million by 2025. These numbers certainly show the rapid growth in the Pakistani telecom sector, especially after the launch of 3G and 4G technologies. According to the report, the mobile and related market in the country is estimated to be worth $17 billion per year by 2025, up from the current $4 billion per year. The report further reads: “…key service providers will be encouraged to offer extended Over-the-Top (OTT) services such as Viber, Skype and work with third party digital distributors and vice versa to offer consumers value through product-centric services.”

The concept of smart cities and towns with extensive use of ICT will improve the quality of life of citizens through connected transport, smart energy, contactless payments, mobile government and more. –PTA Vision 2025

According to the PTA Vision 2025, the concept of smart cities and towns with extensive use of ICT will improve quality of life of citizens through connected transport, smart energy, contactless payments, mobile government and more.

Similarly, Zong Pakistan, a telecom company, in a recently-released report to media has also presented a very upbeat outlook for Pakistan’s telecom sector and has announced its future investment plan in Pakistan. The report quoting Zong’s Director Corporate Affairs, Maham Dard, says that the company aims to double their coverage to more than 200 cities in the coming months.

“Now the concept of ‘branchless banking’ is being introduced in the world,” says Shahzad Ahmed, who oversees the media affairs of Warid Telecom in Pakistan. He says after the arrival of 4G technology, the world has become very fast, but in Pakistan, its potential has not been fully utilized because of infrastructural constraints.

According to another media report, the number of 3G and 4G users in Pakistan has doubled, touching 29.53 million in financial year 2016. While mobile data consumption across the world may be rising, the advent of 5G will transform the possibilities of what smart phones and other mobile devices are capable of achieving.

The Resolve for Smart Cities

The PSCA managing director says: “We have to secure our cities before moving to the next stage of smart cities. “The establishment of smart cities is a very advanced stage, and therefore the probability of its realization in Pakistan in the near future is still low,” he remarks.

We are moving towards Internet of Things, digital smart cities, virtualization in clouds and big data which are the next landmarks after internet in the ICT evolution,” said Minster of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman at the opening session of a three-day roundtable conference, “Asia-Pacific Regulators’ Roundtable 2016” in Islamabad recently. Counting the achievements of her government, Anusha Rehman, said: “With the introduction of mobile broadband 3G/4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technologies, around 30 million mobile broadband subscriptions have been realized and broadband penetration has risen from merely three percent to 18 percent in a short span of two years only.”

Read more: Building the Cities of Tomorrow

The Power of Connectivity

The notion of high connectivity of internet and smart or next generation technologies for smart cities seems incomprehensible without round-the-clock availability of energy—no matter what its source—whether it’s coming from traditional sources like hydro and thermal or renewable energy such as solar or wind.

Screenshot of Crime Investigation Reporting System app.

The Government of Pakistan seems to be well aware of this fact and is spending huge amounts to tackle this issue. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a recent meeting with the country’s business elite at the Governor’s House in Lahore, pointed out that under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) $35 billion would be spent on various energy projects.

“By the year 2018, we will have 25,000 megawatts electricity in the system. There will be no need for loadshedding (power outages) by January 2018,” declared Younas Dhaga, Secretary Ministry of Water and Power, during an informal chat with beat reporters in Lahore recently.

Once Pakistan resolves this issue and has enough energy available in the national grid things will turn to be more simple and easier for the successive governments to undertake mega projects with confidence and determination. Certainly one can’t reap the fruits of information technology and next-gen technology without ensuring uninterrupted supply of electricity. As the former is dependent upon the latter, and the government, well aware of it, is taking special care of this dimension. “We believe in connectivity and inclusiveness for all. Broadband and internet proliferation is our priority,” stated the IT minister in recent a speech. “The government is committed to completing all its milestones to achieve universal connectivity envisaged to connect the unconnected by 2018.”

Therefore, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the government, especially in the Punjab, has started taking innovative and revolutionary steps by undertaking the Lahore Safe City project to give a better and safe future to the people. This would further aid the government in analyzing and evaluating its preparations, making sure it has an appropriate and reliable infrastructure that could hold the gigantic edifice of the proposed smart cities project.

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