This year’s theme at GITEX Technology Week was “The Internet Future of Everything”, where du showcased its initiatives to ensure that Dubai moves forward as a smart city. The week-long event took place from October 18 to 25 at Dubai World Trade Centre. In an attempt to demonstrate the immediacy of du’s smart city undertakings here in Dubai, the theme of its stand at GITEX 2015 was “Smart: Happening Now”. Communicate had a chance to catch up with Carlos Domingo, du’s senior executive officer of new business and innovation, and a veteran of the smart city enterprise. “One of the key areas of focus for us is anything that has to do with a smart city and smart services,” says Domingo.
Currently, du is making an effort to employ a dedicated network of sensors to help people engage with the city of Dubai. One particular technology that Domingo is eager to highlight is LoRa, du’s live, low-power, long-range IoT network. A Cisco collaboration, LoRa is aimed at changing the way UAE residents interact with their surroundings, while also promoting efficiency through the management of the city’s resources and infrastructure. The network also aims to add years of battery life to sensors throughout the UAE. “LoRa is a sensor-friendly network that lets the sensor decide when it wants to interact with the network and therefore uses less battery,” explains Domingo. The low power aspect of LoRa is critical because it is that which helps fuel sensors installed throughout the city provide longer-lasting, real-time engagement with everyday objects. For example, LoRa helps power sensors that are deployed to find available parking spaces, observe temperature and humidity levels at a given location, and manage streetlights to reduce excess energy. “Most people don’t know that 40 percent of the congestion in cities is due to people looking for parking. If you can efficiently guide people to parking spots, this is a very good way of relieving traffic congestion,” adds Domingo.
Another du innovation is tracking people’s movement throughout Dubai on their personal sensors – their phones. Called Smart Insights, it aggregates cellular data anonymously and, as Domingo says, “With this data, you can actually produce very good insights about how people move around the city, because you’re basically tracking 50 percent of the population.” This data can be useful to private entities, such as retail stores trying to determine the best place to open their next outlet, explains Domingo. “We can know where people are coming from, when they go [somewhere], how long they stay [and] their mobility patterns, which also helps with crowd management,” he adds. Smart Insights is one of du’s artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, using algorithms that can tell entities something about consumers that they aren’t already aware of. Domingo adds, “We have a team of Big Data scientists that are working on producing models and predictions based on our data.”
Although it seems that du is taking steps in the field of AI, Domingo admits that the company has not yet explored the full possibilities of AI for du. However, he is fully cognizant of AI’s potential for telecommunications: “AI could basically predict how networks need to be configured, operated [and] where they need maintenance.” This could also reduce the cost of operations, which represents the majority of costs associated with a telecommunications company. With that added efficiency would come cheaper prices for consumers, he says. “The next big thing for telecoms is to reinvent themselves beyond connectivity, [which] will require a transformation,” he explains. Looking closer at the possibilities of AI could probably be a part of that transformation.
Presently, du’s attention is focused on smart cities and smart innovation, which Domingo recognizes is happening in other parts of the world. However, he says that Dubai and the UAE are unique in this effort, because of the “close collaboration between the government and private sector, which is key to successfully deploying these projects.” He notes that Dubai’s government is all about making people happy and it has a track record of complex and ambitious undertakings. He goes on to say that smart cities in the UAE will act as leaders for the remainder of the Middle East.