The smart home and the connected city are not a matter of choice, but of a compulsory adaptation to new needs and challenges

A chance stroll through Helsinki, the capital of Finland, would definitely reveal a number of great surprises. City travel, whether by car or public transport, resembles the futuristic vision of some audacious mayor. You can buy a ticket directly from your phone, and the app will plan the best route for your day’s travel needs, including public transportation, taxis, shared car services, bicycling and your own car[1] – an amazing feature, particularly for those coming from a city like Sofia, which is already suffocating under its own weight.

The overall idea behind the modern infrastructure of Helsinki and other similar cities is to provide the smart hardware and services which operate 24/7 to ease the daily life of their inhabitants, whether at home, at work or moving around.

Out and about

The integration of smart technologies in daily life is the next complex step in the evolutionary puzzle and it is by far not restricted to the purchase of the next household device. Yes, “smartification” does most often begin at home, but the process has started to gradually encompass entire neighborhoods and even whole cities. The vision of a place where the information flow in coordination with the urban infrastructure puts an end to most problems of urban existence has never been more important or closer to realization. In recent years, a number of major cities have been trying to combine existing databases with technological advances in order to tackle challenges like urban crime, public health hazards, traffic congestion, economic inequality, etc. .

But even as most of their inhabitants profess excitement about the emergence of smart cities, they are also worried about issues such as the financial cost of similar initiatives, the protection of privacy and the surmounting of the lack of technological skills.

This became apparent in a recent survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which asked 1,000 U.S. households and 350 U.S government officials about their awareness and interest in the concept of smart communities.[2]

A net six in ten Americans said they would be interested in being a smart city resident, though only 26 percent admitted limited knowledge about what that entailed. Sixty percent said they would vote in favour of an initiative for smart cities in their area.

The study suggests that improved wi-fi and broadband connectivity; air quality monitoring; better management of water resources; energy efficiency; timely disaster prediction and response are the characteristics of the smart cities that citizens are most interested in.



Meanwhile, almost three in four government officials expressed a positive attitude towards the development of smart cities, envisaging such advantages as cheaper operational efficiency; an optimal use of resources; improved public services and interaction among inhabitants; a smoother decision-making process; and the possibility of attracting highly skilled workers and companies.

The evolution to smart cities, however, is also encountering a number of potential obstacles.

Good things take time, and so do smart ones

“In concept and theory, smart city solutions can streamline the delivery of government services, improve transportation options, optimize resource management, and deliver other outcomes that make the quality of living better,” says Tim Herbert, senior vice president, research and market intelligence, at CompTIA.[3]

“But significant practical obstacles remain – funding, privacy and technology integration,” Herbert continued. “Those factors and others make it likely that the move to smart communities will happen in measured steps, not great leaps.”

Concerns over funding and competing budget priorities lead the list of citizens’ concerns about smart city solutions. Worries about cybersecurity and privacy ranked as the second biggest concern, followed by the reliability of the technology.

The main concern of government officials is how projects dedicated to the development of smart cities will be financed. Cybersecurity is also among the key issues that concern the government.

“Our nation’s smart cities initiatives will require a new contingent of cyber workers,” says Liz Hyman, executive vice president of public advocacy at CompTIA. “We must ensure that both private and public entities are deploying policies and initiatives that provide the supply of IT workers to meet the soaring demand.”[4]

That won’t be easy, given the already extremely high demand for information security skills. Indeed, 40 percent of the government officials surveyed said the skills gaps and a lack of necessary expertise is a main area of concern affecting the expansion of smart cities initiatives.

The next phase of smart cities growth will be contingent on expanding the depth and breadth of expertise among government IT staff and to expand the workforce, concludes Herbert.



The report identifies the factors that will shape the future direction of smart cities development. One of them is to elevate the understanding of the smart city concept.[5] The leap from digital to smart will also require advancements on many fronts, from technology and broadband infrastructures to workflow and user experience. Most importantly, there is the need to ensure that smart cities are cyber-safe, and that will require resources and a commitment to shared responsibilities

E-stonia: the Unexpected Leader

When it comes to a modern country embracing the digital environment, the modest Baltic state of Estonia is often lumped together with, or at times even put ahead of, some of the world’s economic and technological giants. Estonia is a leader in the use of digital technology. Since 2005 all of the country’s libraries, schools, universities, public buildings, downtown zones and parks in the major Estonian cities have been offering free internet access. All voting and tax payments are done online. Using special ID cards, Estonians access to almost all public services via the internet.

The capital, Tallinn, is the seat of  accredited NATO Cyber Defence Centres of Excellence (COEs), where data processing specialists from across Europe and the US work to protect the information networks of the 29 members of the Alliance. In 2016, Estonia even opened the world’s first virtual data embassy in Luxembourg, which stores the information system of the Estonian treasury, the pensions insurance and business registers, the identity documents database, the legal codes and census figures, among others.[6]

Each Estonian is identified by a personal ID card not only to the physical world, but also to the electronic environment, allowing people to access almost any e-service, including banks, utility companies, parking facilities and the mass transit system.

It became apparent earlier this year that Estonia is considering the introduction of the world’s first state-launched cryptocurrency tokens which would add incentives to e-residents to create companies in Estonia.[7] Kaspar Korjus, head of the Estonian e-residency program, says that the new virtual coin will help attract greater investments in new technologies and innovations for the public sector, turning Estonia into a model for how societies of the future can be served in the digital era.

Korjus notes that the e-residency program has brought Estonia an estimated €1.4 billion in investments by e-residents – a figure which Deloitte expects to rise to €1.8 billion by 2025.

The Lion City

A no less exciting example of a modern city-state thriving in the contemporary economic and technological environment is offered by Singapore, whose name, translated from Sanskrit, means “Lion City “. The island city-state, located in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, makes up the Malaya Federation together with Malaya, Sabah and



Sarawak, and in 1963 gained independence from the Britain. In the course of some 50 years, the city-state grew from a nondescript settlement into an economic and political phenomenon.[8]

Differing radically from the chaos that is traditionally associated with cities with multi-million populations, Singapore is famed for being one of the richest and best-organized countries in the world. Crime is practically nonexistent, and penalties for even minor offenses are brutal. Singapore has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a smarter transportation system which relies less on private cars and more on public trains and subways.[9]

With nearly 6,500 inhabitants per square kilometre Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The society is cosmopolitan, with half a dozen ethnic communities, including citizens of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Eurasian descent, coexisting in implicit harmony. In the country with four official languages – English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil, English is the common language that binds the different ethnic groups. Children at school are taught in English and usually in the mother-tongue as a second language, in order to preserve each individual’s ethnic identity and values. Land is scarce, as in Japan, and its costs are astronomic. The ocean provides natural boundaries which obviate the need of border walls or high-tech partitions. One solution to the land shortage is the reclaiming of parts of the coastal areas. Legally, land is not sold, but is leased to its occupants for a period of 99 years.

Singapore is the highest developed economy in Southeast Asia, with thriving industries like shipbuilding, electronics, electrical engineering, and a powerful petrochemical industry. Singapore’s container port is among the world leaders in terms of container traffic. Singapore is also the financial hub of Southeast Asia; a highly developed state with a commerce-based economy and low tax rates, in which multinational corporations play an important role. Its per capita GNP is also among the highest in the world.

Technologies That Are Actually Useful

The technological advances affect humanity in different ways. One of them has been the ability to save lives and provide good medical care for all. As a result, life expectancy and population figures have increased significantly. In the last 50 years, the number of the planet’s inhabitants has shot upwards thanks to improved standards of living, access to medical services and greater and cheaper food production. Such achievements are praiseworthy, but they also create a new generation of challenges: overcrowding, pollution, crime, noise, traffic and other banes of big-city life.[10]

Technology contains one of the possible solutions, provided we are able to recognise bold innovations and projects as serious and achievable ambitions and not mere sensational headlines. Driverless car convoys, for instance, hold the promise of sparking a revolution in road safety and saving thousands of lives. We must therefore strive to enter an age where the aim of road safety is not only to improve the chances of survival in road accidents, but to



prevent the occurrence of such accidents altogether. And if the smart home and the smart city become real and widely applicable, rather than just exciting concepts, this could be the transition to a more sustainable, effective and safe development for all of us.

[1] Helsinki: A Very Smart City, available at

[2] Drones and Smart Cities: Transforming the Lives of Citizens, available at

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Why cities need to become smart now, available at

[6] Estonia sets up “data embassy” in Luxembourg, available at

[7] Can a Government Introduce a Cryptocurrency? Estonia Says Maybe, available at

[8] Singapore experiments with smart government, available at

[9] Singapore Ranks As World’s No. 2 Smart City, Report Says, available at

[10] A smarter smart city, available at