ASEAN Smart Cities Network: Getting Closer to the Utopia

Written by Nathania Vivian Hermawan (Picture: Basile Morin)


At the 32nd ASEAN Summit, countries approved Singapore’s chairmanship theme, “Innovative and Resilient”, as an articulation of their strategic position in this shifting economic landscape. One of the encapsulation of this theme is ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), a network that synergise 26 IoT-based cities across the region aiming to solve urban population growth and rapid urbanizations. Looking at current wave of innovation in Southeast Asia, ASEAN has started to turn “sci-fi” smart cities into reality –but surely it takes time.

Smart City Trend in 21st Century

The world is imagining a innovative, efficient, and pollution-free city. This may sounds like a utopia, but all this imagination is what the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to transform our cities into smart cities. Smart cities worldwide are incorporating data and digital technologies into infrastructure and services—delivering tangible improvement of quality of life (QOL) as an outcome.

In 2015, Bristol of United Kingdom launched Data Dome, a public platform which provide real-time data of air quality, pollution, and noise. Barcelona implemented Barcelona Lighting Masterplan (BLM) which designed to enhance the efficiency of streetlamps. Lights will dim when streets are empty to conserve energy. Through smart lighting, Barcelona save $37 million annually.

Basically, these countries have the same model of smart city project in ASEAN.

Why ASCN matters

  • Dense Population

41.8 percent of Southeast Asia’s total population or almost 245 million peopleis now concentrated in urban areas, making cities more significant as key drivers of social and economic development.Megacities like Manila and Jakarta both have a population of over 10 million, while Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City have more than 5 million inhabitants respectively. More than a half of total population in Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand is agglomerated in cities, while Singapore as the frontrunner of smart city has 100% of its population living in urban areas.

ASEAN may be entering a troubling “urbanization without growth”, where rapid urban population rate no longer goes hand in hand with great economic outcome and rising living standards.Dense population raises many issues such as traffic congestion, air pollution, housing shortage, infrastructure access and waste management.

Bangkok and Jakarta is the two most congested cities in Asia, while housing shortage is a major issue cities like Manila have to deal with. Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand compiled with China are dumping plastic waste into oceans more than the total of rest of the worldshows that our people is not smart enough in managing waste.

  • Economic Integration

ASCN will strengthen economic integration between Southeast Asian countries –the biggest goal of ASEAN Economic Community. ASCN allows countries to share best practice and explore new technological solutions on urban problems.

  • Industry 4.0

For developing world such as in ASEAN, fourth industrial revolution is haunting, since new technologies cause less utilization of human labour. Beside that, millennials must compete in the digital era notwithstanding access to technology is not as easy as those in core countries.

The Minister of Finance of Indonesia, Sri Mulyani, once stated, “Industrial 4.0 will benefit the more advanced countries and countries with more capitals.” Therefore, without new initiative such as building smart cities, developing countries in ASEAN will face even worse disequilibrium in a progressive world because core countries are now seem poised with the coming of fourth industrial revolution.IoT and Smart Citiesis expected to revolutionize the mindset and people’s habit so they will not be left behind in Industry 4.0.

Initial Stage of ASCN

By now, there is a wave of innovation across Southeast Asian countries. Increasing numbers of digital citizen apps, ride-hailing apps like Go-Jek, intelligent traffic systems, data-driven disaster-risk assessment, and an automation systems to manage congestion like ERP upgrade people’s quality of life.But, some just begin to make legal policies and also facing budgetary issues.

  • Malaysia has Cyberjaya as its first smart city and emerging Global Technology Hub after the installation big data board about daily weather, traffics, or even parking slots.
  • Juniper Research enthroneSingapore as the smartest city in the world ahead of New York, London, and Seoul.
  • Thailand at first only promoted three pilot cities, but now it develops four more cities that isBangkok, Chon Buri, Rayong, and Chaochengsao. Rapid flourishment of the smart city is due to pursuing the Thailand 4.0, an initiative to accomplish status as high-income nations and as digital economy hub of ASEAN. Thailand is also establishing Smart City Thailand Association.
  • Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, launched Qlue app, a real-time reporting application from residents to government to improve public participation. There is also Banyuwangi“Smart Kampong” features operator to connect small and medium enterprises with online shopping site,
  • Philippines implemented Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment Hazard) in 2012, a primary disaster prevention, risk reduction, and risk management program by using IT network, because Philippines was always hit by typhoon several times in a year.
  • Vietnam expects to have Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, and Can Tho as its first smart city in 2030 and now it is just building legal policies and infrastructure foundation foremost 5G network to enhance the performance of IoT and create a wireless-power city.
  • Brunei has Temburong Smart City project which aims a ‘low-carbon district’ that emits net zero carbon through ICT. Government assesses appropriate capacity of power sources to provide electricity to Temburong area, which consists of Solar/PV and diesel power generators, by computer simulation.
  • Cambodia’s private company,7NG (Cambodia) Co., Ltd, is currently working on the legal documents with government to achieve Kandal as Intelligent and Innovation City project plan into reality as soon as possible. But local newspapers say Cambodia is still lack of holistic planning and regulations regarding Phnom Penh smart city project.

Main Challenges

Firstly, countries who are just starting to build smart cities lack of investment from business developers. They should launch programmes, including business-to-business and mission trips, to promote these smart city projects to investors. While as mentioned above, some countries is not wholly finished yet in managing its legal policies and master plan.

Prime Minister Lee HsienLoong also realize the major challenges of the first step to actualize ASCN, that is, “to make the implementation and to change the ways in which our cities and our administrations operate to make full use of the technology…” Government has responsibility in raising awareness about smart city to its citizens because they will be critical constituent of the smart city implementation.

Lastly, after six months of smart city ideas, technological sharing have not been seen. Each countries are making partnership with developed countries and major companies beyond ASEAN. As stated by Vietnam Ministry of Information and Communication, governments experience difficulty in providing adequate infrastructure and IT human resources so Vietnam have to find support from UK Commonwealth Foundation. Malaysia adopt smart city platform from AlibabaChinese company. South Korea is the one who pushes Cambodia public housing project through the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corp.

Member countries are still making its own path to get their smart city goals. In addition, those practices allow foreign companies to infiltrate domestic business process more easily.

Technological Readiness

To implement ASCN by 2020, governments should ensure that its own system can advance IoT performance through adoption of supporting equipment. The table shows gap between ASEAN countries in their technological readiness to implementASCN.

Table 1.
ASEAN Technology Preparedness









Rank for Individual Indicators
Mobile SIM Penetration Average mobile data speed (Mbps) Broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants Internet users as percentage of population IPv6 adoption
1 Singapore 154% 16.90 25.70 73% 3.55%
2 Malaysia 136% 3.16 8.22 67% 1.95%
3 Brunei 111% 7.79 5.71 69% 0.00%
4 Thailand 138% 4.32 7.35 29% 0.32%
5 Vietnam 134% 1.51 6.32 44% 0.00%
6 Philippines 110% 3.90 2.61 37% 0.03%
7 Indonesia 124% 2.05 1.30 16% 0.07%
8 Cambodia 138% 3.15 0.22 6% 0.02%
9 Laos 93% 2.08 0.13 13% 0.02%
10 Myanmar 13% 0.41 0.18 1% 0.00%



Singapore as the chairman of ASEAN and the smartest city among world countries has strived for a smarter Southeast Asia. Yes, every member states of ASEAN has begun to adopt ASEAN Smart Cities Network but it faces problems such as lack of investmentand technology. Governments have to change digital mindset of the people too. ASEAN are getting closer to the utopia of smart cities, but it demands greater cooperation to eventually get there.

Singapore should be a mentor to its neighbouring countries to make every city resilient from urbanization and also fourth industrial revolution challenges. Conversely, other countries mustinnovate to be “another Singapore” in the region.

ASEAN countries, after all, have frameworks in preparing ASCN, but in reality even Myanmar and Vietnam is not adopting IPv6 yeteventhough it is an important tools to support IoT. ASCN thus should push more member countries to provide technological aid and share models to their neighbours, and actively meet in forums to report its obstacle and improvement of smart cities.

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