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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: July 14, 2014 NO. 29 July 17, 2014
Smarter City, Easier Life
Chinese cities are mapping out a more intelligent, network-based future By Tang Yuankai
By Tang Yuankai

The Beijing Municipal Government has designed an application for mobile devices—Beijing Serving You—to issue notices from government departments that concern the city's residents, like emergency warnings, traffic information and weather forecasts. Another future project for the government in Beijing is to combine the different household cards used to pay water, electricity, natural gas and heating bills into one card to make residents' lives easier. All the taxis and buses in Beijing have been equipped with GPS modules so that they can be monitored and given directions to avoid severe traffic jams.

Shanghai has also applied smart city technologies to its traffic management. All the traffic flows on highways and intra-city roads have been monitored and the information is conveniently made available on the Internet, digital signs and cellphones. The city is also building a comprehensive platform to process all kinds of traffic information. "It will be the largest traffic information-processing system in the world," said Yang Tao, an engineer with Shanghai Traffic Information Center.

Shanghai has also built a database to allow all city-level hospitals to share the clinical information of patients. Liu Jian, Deputy Director of Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization, said that the electronic health records for individuals established during the process will also assist decision making on healthcare policies.

Upgrades needed

With more objects becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate with other devices, the resulting information networks will undoubtedly result in the creation of new business models, improved business processes, and reduced costs and risks. The widespread adoption of such technology relies on massive increases in storage and computing power, however. Some of this extra power is available via cloud computing, which makes number crunching possible on a larger scale and at lower costs.

Beijing is building a world-class R&D center for cloud computing in Yizhuang in the city's southeast suburb.

The technological level of sensors has a significant bearing on the success of monitoring and collecting various kinds of data needed by city administrators. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Chinese sensor market scale rose from 15.43 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) in 2004 to 130 billion yuan ($21 billion) in 2013. However, more than 95 percent of sensors in China are imported. At a conference in June, Guo Yuansheng, Deputy Chief Engineer of the Electronic Components Industry Development Research Center under the MIIT, said that although 26 out of China's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have completed their development plans for their Internet of Things, most don't have the industrial or technological base, nor the core technologies and application capacity needed.

The MIIT issued a list of key tasks for the development of the Internet of Things on June 17, which stressed making breakthroughs in key technologies, including the research and development of sensors, chips, information transmission and processing technologies. The document also singled out the overall planning, promoting industrial standards, supporting leading enterprises and nurturing the development of related industries.

At a forum on smart cities in May, Wen Ku, head of the Department of Telecommunication Development of the MIIT, said that in the latest edition of Global Information Technology Report, China ranked 62nd in Networked Readiness Index, which doesn't match China's overall economic scale or the public's expectations toward building smart cities. He said that it means that the outlook for the development of smart cities in China is not as optimistic as most people think but there is still space for explosive growth.

Email us at: tangyuankai@bjreview.com

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