Singapore: smart city, smarter nation

Singapore: smart city, smarter nation

The future will present governments with many challenges, and it is those governments who are proactive that will ensure the prosperity of their nations.

No country has taken this message more to heart than Singapore. Singapore certainly has some challenges. It is the world’s third most densely populated nation and it is also one of the fastest greying populations.

Singapore have met these challenges head on with large-scale implementations of smart city technology, leading to it being not just a smart city, but the world’s first smart nation.

This year they were awarded as the world’s best smart city by Juniper Research. Juniper has 40 metrics which they base their decision on, and Singapore ultimately clinched the title because:

‘Singapore is a world leader in applying smart mobility policies and technology. Meanwhile, the city’s fixed and cellular broadband services, city apps and strong open data policy led to it taking the top spot for 2016.’

This drive is more than a need to be a world leader, as the Minister for Foreign affairs Vivian Balakrishnan has bluntly stated: ‘What you see in Singapore is an exercise of desperate imagination. It's not about innovation because it's sexy, but because it's survival.’

So what are the initiatives that will ensure that Singapore remains a clean, prosperous nation?

Streams of data

One of the cornerstones of any smart city initiative is data. However, it’s not just a cornerstone for Singapore, the city pulsates with streams and streams of data.

With cameras and sensors embedded throughout the city, Singapore is gathering data on an incomparable scale. This data allows officials to prevent crime, determine traffic density and send out wide-scale emergency signals. As describes: ‘The supertrees aren’t merely aesthetic. They operate as temperature moderators, absorbing and dispersing heat. They collect rainwater and act as ventilation ducts for conservatories nearby.’ (For those who are unfamiliar, the famous Singapore supertrees are a grove of electronic trees that are 20-30 metres tall.)

Singapore supertrees

The data also raises significant privacy issues. TechinAsia describes Singapore as an advanced surveillance state. Balakrishnan describes the issue: ‘The big, big white elephant in the room.’  The government has:

‘almost unfettered access to citizen’s data. Laws are so broadly phrased that the government can obtain access to sensitive data like text messages, emails, and web history without court permission. Contrast this with the United States, where a court order or search warrant is required to obtain data without the user’s knowledge.’

Interestingly, these measures don’t seem to be strongly opposed by the Singaporean people as a whole, because the trade-off, security, clean streets and a lower crime rate are considered more important than personal privacy.

Ageing population

One way Singapore uses their big data is to address the issue of their aging population. Traditionally elders would live in the family home, but as the population struggles to cope with the overwhelming healthcare demands, alternative options needed to be explored. As part of the Smart Nation initiative, the Singaporean government will spend an estimated $250 million SG (approximately $244 million AUD) by 2020 on this initiative. It will include:

  • Tracking devices such as fitness trackers and sensors that will allow remote access to relatives and medical practitioners
  • Emergency alerts that monitor things like blood-pressure and heart rate
  • Technology that allows the elderly greater independence in their homes
  • Connected public transportation systems that promote mobility

These technologies won’t just help to alleviate the economic strain that an ageing population puts on society as a whole, but it also ensures that their elderly citizens are maintaining a good quality of life to the very end.


Another area that the Smart Nation initiative focuses on is tackling the issue of high population density. A high population density affects many areas in a city including:

  • Housing
  • Pollution
  • Epidemics
  • Transportation

In order to mitigate the effects of a heavy population on these areas, Singapore has created some amazingly innovative solutions, particularly with regards to transport. Their smart mobility policies was a significant factor in winning Smart City 2016. The policy concentrates on reducing traffic and ensuring that their public transportation system is an attractive alternative.

Owning a car in Singapore is an expensive and complicated process. There are auctions just to get rights to purchase a car. If you are lucky enough to get past that first hurdle, then a car may set you back anywhere between $50,000 SG and $75,000 SG. That’s before the government tax which can amount to 100% of the vehicle’s cost.

If this wasn’t steep enough, Singapore also introduced the world’s first Electronic Road Pricing systems (ERPs) which charge drivers more in peak-hours. As Chin Kian Keong with Singapore’s Land Transport authority asserts, they want to penalise the act of driving: ‘We want to move people from cars, because cars are not such an efficient use of the limited road space that we have.’

This measure has been tremendously successful. C40 has discovered that Singapore boasts an average car speed of 27km/hr compared to:

  • 16km/hr London
  • 11km/hr Tokyo
  • 5km/hr Jakarta

What makes this statistic particularly impressive is that Singapore’s population has ‘more than doubled’ since the 1990’s.


Singapore’s willingness to tackle their problems head on has resulted in a state that is showing the rest of the world what is possible with a strong smart city commitment. And the challenges that Singapore faces are not unique. Here in Australia, we are also going to be facing issues with an ageing population and problems arising in high density areas, particularly in our cities. This is why our commitment to smart cities needs to remain a priority.

Interested to learn more about how smart technologies will change the way we live in the future? Keep up to date on the development of the CeBIT Australia 2017 eGovernment program here.