Smart cities in the world

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. In 2050, this will be the case for nearly seven out of ten people. Cities contribute over 70% of global carbon emissions and 60-80% of energy consumption. Rapid urbanization has created additional challenges, such as social inequalities, traffic congestion and water contamination, as well as associated health problems.

Governments and municipalities can use information and communication technologies (ICTs), together with renewable energy and other technologies, to build smarter and more sustainable cities for their inhabitants. A smart and sustainable city is an innovative city that uses ICT to improve the quality of life of its population, the efficiency of urban management and urban services as well as competitiveness, while respecting the needs of current and future generations in the economic, social, environmental and cultural fields.

Although there are not yet cities where all urban systems and services are connected, many cities are already on the way to becoming smart and sustainable cities. For example, they rely on ICT to improve energy efficiency and waste management, improve housing and health care, optimize road traffic and safety, measure air quality, alert the police when crimes are committed in the streets and improve water supply and sanitation systems.

Making rural communities smart and sustainable can improve the quality of life of rural people and help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ICTs have the potential to accelerate the achievement of all 17 SDGs, including SDG 11, which aims to build sustainable cities and communities.​


Smart and sustainable cities need a telecommunications infrastructure that is stable, secure, reliable and interoperable, capable of supporting a considerable volume of applications and services using ICT.

Recent advances in the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, digital twins, robotics, and smart grids and meters are driving and supporting the development of smart and sustainable cities around the world.

The Internet of Things – which refers to the network bringing together a growing number of computing devices equipped with sensors and software that allow them to connect to each other to share data – enables billions of devices and objects equipped with intelligent sensors to connect with each other, collect information in real time and send this data, by means of wireless communication systems, to centralized control systems. These systems, in turn, manage traffic, reduce energy consumption and improve a wide range of urban operations and services.

Artificial intelligence enables computational analysis of very large data sets to reveal repeating patterns, and this information is used to support and improve decision-making at the municipal level.

Smart grids, which are electricity supply networks that use digital communication technologies to detect and react to changes in local usage, help optimize energy consumption in cities. Smart meters and sensors, equipped with Internet Protocol (IP)-based addresses, can communicate information about end-users’ energy consumption to the energy supplier, allowing them to better control their consumption.

Digital twins leverage virtual reality and augmented reality to facilitate smart city planning, predictive maintenance of city services, real-time monitoring, decision making, and optimization of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, in different sectors.

Robotics is the use of robots and unmanned aircraft (UAVs) in cities to help support service delivery in areas such as transportation, healthcare, surveillance, industrial production, construction, etc.

While the 3G and 4G networks currently used by mobile phones pose a number of problems regarding the support of the various essential services for smart and sustainable cities, the deployment of 5G (fifth generation mobile technologies) in many country​ has the potential to connect many more devices to the Internet, transport data much faster, and process large amounts of data in minimal time.


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) supports technical studies and ongoing dialogue between governments, the private sector and other stakeholders to improve the reliability, security and interoperability of urban ICT infrastructures, while making promoting the use of ICT to reduce energy consumption and improve services and quality of life for city dwellers.

Standards development

ITU and its Members, through ITU-T Study Group 20 , dedicated to the Internet of Things and Smart Cities and Communities, develop international standards that establish technical criteria, processes and practices to enable the coordinated development of Internet of Things technologies for smart and sustainable cities. More recently, the Study Group has studied topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine-to-machine communications, and big data aspects of the Internet of Things.

ITU-T Study Group 20 developing standards on Digital Inclusion in Smart Cities, Next Generation Urban Assessments, Maturity Model for Digital Supply Chains, Digital Transformation in Cities outsourcing for urban infrastructure monitoring, smart fire protection, smart buildings, data intermediary platform in the Internet of Things, among others.

From 2017 to 2019, the ITU Focus Group on Data Processing and Management in Support of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities and Communities developed technical specifications and reports to enable the ecosystem of the Internet of Things to be fully inclusive, interoperable and able to make full use of the data generated by the devices powering the system. This work was aimed at mitigating the risk of data “silos” appearing in different industrial sectors.

In October 2021, ITU-T Study Group 20 established the Focus Group on “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture” (FG- AI4A) , which will examine the possibilities of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies to support data classification, improve agricultural systems modeling and enable effective communication for the optimization of agricultural production processes.​These activities of the FG-AI4A will be carried out in close collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in order to highlight the existing gaps in the field of standardization of the’digital farming.

ITU has also recently developed standards to ensure network security in urban areas. ITU standards for 5G systems are also helping to make smart and sustainable cities a reality. ITU standards show how smart grids can help build more controllable and efficient energy systems.

Global collaboration and promotion

ITU together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UN-Habitat coordinate the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) global platform, which promotes public policies and encourages the use of ICTs as catalysts and agents of the transition towards smart and sustainable cities. The initiative now enjoys the support of 14 other United Nations bodies. The U4SSC initiative has developed a set of core performance indicators for smart and sustainable cities, which allow cities to set targets, collect data and measure their progress in five main areas: ICT use, physical infrastructure, social inclusion and equitable access to services, quality of life and environmental sustainability. More than 50 cities around the world, including Bizerte, Dubai, Daegu, Kairouan, Maldonado, Manizales, Montevideo, Moscow, Pully, Rimini, Singapore, Valencia and Wuxi, already implement these fundamental performance indicators.

Integrating emerging technologies to support transformations in smart cities is vital. The U4SSC initiative studies the adoption of various advanced technologies, including blockchain, machine learning, digital twins and artificial intelligence, and has launched a series of reports on these topics.

Through its thematic groups, the U4SSC initiative has also developed reports and guidelines on a variety of other topics, including solutions for integrated smart city platforms, innovative solutions for smart cities , principles for the implementation of artificial intelligence in cities, as well as guidelines for public procurement for the creation of smart cities. Recognizing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transition to smart cities, the U4SSC initiative is also exploring use cases related to driving economic recovery to build urban resilience.

Since 2021, ITU has been organizing a series of webinars on the theme of ” Digital transformation of cities and communities “, the organization of which will continue in 2022.

Making rural communities smarter and more sustainable

The smart villages and islands approach put forward by ITU-D involves a new design and implementation framework that is demand-driven, user-centric and flexible and focuses on sustainability, l scalability and multi-sector collaboration. In particular, it emphasizes the possibility of reusing the same solutions to simultaneously meet the different needs of users thanks to the establishment of a single integrated platform capable of providing a range of services in different sectors in s based on a few interoperable infrastructure elements, which significantly reduces the cost.

The transformation of rural villages and remote islands into smart villages and islands will improve the quality of life by providing local communities with connectivity and new ICT-based services, while at the same time promoting interoperability, cooperation and new services.

Smart cities in the world

Initially implemented on an experimental basis in Niger, similar solutions do not need to be developed in other countries, particularly in the Pacific Region . By implementing and promoting smart village and smart island projects, ITU seeks to provide disadvantaged island communities with connectivity and an integrated set of scalable and sustainable services that leverage interoperability and the multifunctionality of the ICT infrastructure.


Here are some examples of how ICT helps build smart and sustainable cities:


In Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), the city uses measures to combat traffic congestion, including adaptive control or traffic prioritization measures. The intelligent transport system monitors and manages the city’s traffic through various sensors and the intelligent surveillance camera system. It uses advanced analytics to perform historical, real-time, and predictive traffic analytics, including contextualized incident and traffic reporting, to feed into traffic dashboards and KPIs for building of reports.

The city of Mashhad (Islamic Republic of Iran) implemented a smart collection program for recyclable waste to improve recycling rates. Mashhad has developed the SIMAP mobile application, which provides information on waste recycling streams to encourage people to improve their participation in waste sorting and recycling.

In Moscow (Russia), the entire traffic and transport network is managed by a traffic management center consisting of more than 2,000 traffic lights, 3,500 traffic detectors and 2,000 surveillance cameras. Data from these devices is transmitted to the city’s traffic management center. A traffic flow analysis system using state-of-the-art technology and real-time data helps identify redundant or necessary traffic arrangements.

Singapore has developed Virtual Singapore, which offers a dynamic 3D urban model and collaborative platform to help city stakeholders drive innovation. Through Virtual Singapore, these stakeholders can use valuable insights gained through its program for policy and business analysis, decision making, and idea testing.

The city of Valencia (Spain) has developed a cloud-based internal city management system called the VLCi Platform . This platform allows the city to collect data on key indicators for its urban services, analyze it using advanced tools, and then develop dashboards to facilitate decision-making. It allows for greater citizen engagement through transparency.

The city of Texel (Netherlands) has deployed a new smart and energy-efficient infrastructure for public lighting throughout the city. Using a combination of LEDs and IoT sensors provides significant energy savings and reduced light pollution.

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