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After Smart Cities, Taiwan Looks to Nurture Smart Towns and Villages

With the success of its intelligent urban-space initiatives internationally recognised, Taiwan is now digitally enfranchising its smaller communities, with a string of innovative healthcare, transport and fintech programmes already under way.

Photo: 5G-readiness: Upgrading to the new high-speed data standard is essential if Taiwan is to stay smart. (Shutterstock.com)
5G-readiness: Upgrading to the new high-speed data standard is essential if Taiwan is to stay smart.
Photo: 5G-readiness: Upgrading to the new high-speed data standard is essential if Taiwan is to stay smart. (Shutterstock.com)
5G-readiness: Upgrading to the new high-speed data standard is essential if Taiwan is to stay smart.

Urban lifestyles have undergone substantial changes in recent years, partly on account of the rapid advances made in network technology. As a result, many cities across the world are now actively promoting smart-city development through the use of state-of-the-art technology, most notably internet-of-things (IoT) applications, Big Data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Overall, the aim is to provide better and more convenient urban services in a wide variety of areas, including public facilities, transportation, healthcare, security, environmental protection and entertainment. At the same time, it is hoped that such moves will help make government bodies, social-service agencies and businesses more efficient and accountable.

Essentially, smart-city development involves harnessing information and communications technologies (ICT) and application services as a way of integrating urban systems and services as efficiently as possible, while optimising urban management, improving the quality of everyday lives and promoting industrial innovation.

For its part, Taiwan has something of a head start when it comes to smart-city development, largely on account of its prowess in the information technology-based manufacturing and network technology fields. This has helped it make rapid progress in the implementation of smart-city measures in its major urban areas, while it also allowing it to introduce the technology to its towns and villages, locations where grassroots-oriented smart communities can be established.

The territory's progress on the smart-city development front has received global recognition in recent years. In particular, it has been endorsed by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based non-profit policy research organisation that evaluates the development of smart cities across the world on an annual basis.

Every year, it invites more than 200 experts to judge the cities nominated for three different awards – the Smart 21, the Top 7 and the highly prestigious Intelligent Community of the Year. Evaluations are then made across five different categories – broadband penetration, knowledge development, innovation, digital inclusion, and marketing / advocacy. Winning cities also need to demonstrate a degree of success with regard to collaboration, leadership and sustainability.

Over the past 12 years, Taiwanese cities have performed particularly well in the ICF's ratings. Taipei was named Intelligent Community of the Year in 2006, while Taichung took the title in 2013. In June this year, three Taiwanese cities – Taoyuan, Chiayi and Tainan – all made the Top 7 list.

Taoyuan, which has now ranked among the Top 7 three times, was particularly commended for its support for start-ups, effective use of Big Data analytics and the launch of a cloud-based intelligent sewer-management system. Chiayi, on the list for the second time in two years, meanwhile, was honoured for its outstanding achievements with regard to healthcare data governance and people-centred data management. Meanwhile, Tainan, a Top 7 debutant, won praise for its excellent performance in smart-city construction and intelligent epidemic prevention.

A survey by Taiwan's Global Views Monthly, published in March this year, illustrates just why Taiwanese cities have been so successful in promoting smart developments in transportation, education, culture and tourism. In the transportation sector, for instance, Taipei, Taoyuan, Tainan and Kaohsiung have all launched closed-course testing grounds for driverless buses, while Keelung, New Taipei City and Changhua now have similar plans in place. A prime example of smart development in education and culture, meanwhile, is Changhua county's introduction of the Asus robot, Zenbo, as an aid for special education in primary schools.

Taiwanese cities have also shown a particular aptitude for using smart technology to address issues specific to their individual circumstances. In order to promote marine conservation, for instance, the local government of Keelung commissioned a rock fishing app, which utilises Big Data analytics to process information received from amateur anglers and professional fishing teams. Over in Miaoli county, the local government turned to O2O (online-to-offline) channels in a bid to bolster tourism in Nanzhuang and Sanyi, Taiwan's two so-called “slow cities”, where traditional lifestyles are prioritised above fast-paced contemporary alternatives.

As an added bonus, the growth of smart-city development across Taiwan has led to greater collaboration between its disparate geographical areas, with 14 cities and counties currently working on trans-regional co-operative initiatives. Taipei, for instance, is now working with the northern Matsu islands on the development of new smart healthcare programmes. This gives Matsu doctors the facility to send x-rays to many of Taipei's leading hospitals and allows medical staff in both locations to hold video consultations with regard to proposed patient care programmes.

Photo: Not even semi-conductored: Driverless buses take to the streets of Taipei. (Xinhua News Agency)
Not even semi-conductored: Driverless buses take to the streets of Taipei.
Photo: Not even semi-conductored: Driverless buses take to the streets of Taipei. (Xinhua News Agency)
Not even semi-conductored: Driverless buses take to the streets of Taipei.

In order to nurture similar initiatives and to drive smart-city development in Taiwan's smaller towns and villages, the Industrial Development Bureau of the Ministry of Economic Affairs has launched a two-year Smart City Taiwan pilot project. This will focus on applications within the transport, healthcare, security, education, agriculture, energy, retailing and tourism sectors, with the ultimate aim of integrating trans-regional mobile application services, while demonstrating to industry players just how to make best use of their service data and nurturing the growth of a new network of smart-community services.

On the corporate front, Taiwan's telecoms companies, especially those with substantial interests in broadband development and wireless infrastructure management, are more than keen to be involved in any smart-city development initiatives. For its part, Chunghwa, Taiwan's largest telecom business, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Taipei city government with regard to 5G and Smart City Application Services in July this year. This will see the company install 5G base stations and IoT smart sensors on many of Taipei's streetlights and traffic signals, allowing traffic and pedestrian flows to be monitored and optimised, while also relaying the information feeds that are essential for the successful operation of connected and driverless vehicles.

The financial sector has also been keen to explore the business opportunities stemming from the ongoing smart-city programme, particularly those that relate to the fintech field. In a key development, many of the territory's major financial institutions now have the facility to process mobile payments, something of a necessity given that such payments are seen as integral to many aspects of smart-city living.

MasterCard, for instance, signed a contract with the mass rapid transit operator in Kaohsiung in August 2018 for the launch of a PayPass service. Inspired by such developments, the Executive Yuan hopes that 90% of all domestic transactions will be processible via mobile payment systems by 2025.

Taiwan also benefits from having a comprehensive information technology industry chain already in place. This has seen many of the territory's IT companies having previously ventured into IoT, creating a legacy of resources that can be co-opted into the smart city supply chain. This has led to a number of the territory's domestic high-tech businesses emerging as key players in its smart city development programme, most notably Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), MediaTek, Acer, Inventec, Quanta Computer and Delta Electronics.

Robert Kang, Special Correspondent, Taipei

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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