From Digital to Smart

Rapid advances in technology are reshaping economies all over the world and Bangladesh is no exception. However, Bangladesh is interesting because of three critical factors – our demographic bulge (63%  below the age of 35)[1] makes technology adoption lightning fast, rapid urbanization makes the capital an hotbed for talent driving economic growth and density dividend (Dhaka being the fifth most dense city in world).[2] All this factors put Dhaka at the intersection of digital technology, disruptive innovation and hi-tech urban environment laying the base for transition into a Smart City – breeding ground for new ideas and doubly exciting place to live.

“By making data/connectivity ubiquitous the city needs to solve for problems of citizens/netizens and create smart solutions around them.”

Understanding the Basics

Bangladesh – with 97% mobile penetration[3], 45 million smartphone users[4] and 99 million active internet users[3] is already enjoying the technology leapfrog e.g. record penetration of mobile financial services. Especially Dhaka in recent years is experiencing “1 to n” innovations like “Pathao” (this means bringing in an innovation from outside markets to Bangladesh) – built on Uber’s business model or “” – Amazon grocery of Bangladesh. This rapid citizen adoption of technology also has the potential to solve major metropolitan challenges.

However, technology adoption and emergence of disruptive business models is only one piece of the puzzle. The second ingredient is “Data and Connectivity” – the lifeline for smart cities. By making data/connectivity ubiquitous the city needs to solve for problems of citizens/netizens and create smart solutions around them.

Lastly, smart cities need people and by people we mean high quality smart human capital able to leverage talent to win the innovation game that would drive economic growth. Hence for Dhaka it’s imperative to jump into this “war for talent” otherwise we would see migration becoming commonplace.

From Pilot to Scale

One of the best ways to foster disruption is by creating an enabling environment in a small space to study results and then prepare to scale. This can be done by setting-up a “Smart City in the City” in the tri-state area Banani-Gulshan-Baridhara. The space has a concentration of MAC consumers who are adaptive of new technology, quality infrastructure and proximity to workplace – all imperative to set-up a pilot.

We can approach smart city from three perspectives – a) Via investments in human/social capital b) infrastructure and c) disruptive technologies like IoT that fuel economic growth, life quality and optimal resource management. The below components can give a basis on how to move forward.

Data and Connectivity

At the very first we need to set the infrastructure play right. Without the ubiquity of data connection, implementing smart solutions are difficult. The proposed location has to come under a central data connectivity umbrella where humans and technology both interact in the same cloud space. This can be achieved by public investments in data towers and connectivity hubs which would give rise of industrial internet enabling talented creators to devise solutions for improving the life of smart citizens.

Another substantial step would include improving telecommunication and connectivity services within the area by setting up a gigabit passive optical network and data mapping all infrastructure, buildings and utilities on Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

“Smart City is a collaboration project. The government, citizens, businesses and development partners has to come together.”

Green Infrastructure

To retain top talent it is vital for a smart city to ensure the building of more eco-friendly spaces for homes, schools, mega commercial complexes with ample green spaces, uninterrupted power and water supply. Enactment of policies that mandate use of more green vehicles and public transports can be of immense help. The Dhaka Metro Rail project will be a great contributor to this factor.

Additionally, digital improvements must be made on an infrastructural level of the tri-state area to include 24X7 water and electricity supply, 100% treatment of both solid and liquid waste, rainwater harvesting, smart lighting and energy consumption.

Technology Innovation

The next step is creating base for innovations. This includes building incubation and accelerator programs across the tech-startup ecosystem but most importantly creating industry-academia linkage like developing center of excellence in key technology universities. IoT businesses can be leveraged to provide platforms for homes and living spaces in this area will enable residents to integrate home automation platforms, smart lighting and intelligent energy consumption and smart security within the neighborhood.

The diagram below showcases technologies vis-à-vis implementation timeline*.

* The industries are already displaying some critical shifts to disruption. Some industries are early adopters of the disruptive digital functions where the others are expected to adopt them in near future. The matrix takes 16 industries and shows an overview of their sensitivity to adopting disruptiveness. The factors that were considered during the assessment matrix are: How much effort it takes to turn the product into virtual format; Customers intention and comfort in using digital mediums; Age and mobility of customers’ & workforce; The influence and indulgence with social media; The government regulations and other factors influencing the digital innovation adoption

Up tiering Service Verticals

Future development and sustainable growth within the tri-state area will require digitalizing and upgrading on hospitality, education and hospitals, edutainment, research and development and training and vocational centers.

Street and traffic lighting can be connected to the digital infrastructure used to directing drivers to open parking spaces, to helping first responders during an emergency and to divert from busy routes. App developments can introduce services for commuters on the location of buses their desired routes. Digital protection and surveillance such as CCTV, environmental sensors, internet security and others offer limitless opportunities to increase safety, optimize municipal systems and create real-time environmental awareness.

Summing Up

At the end of the day Smart City is a collaboration project. The government, citizens, businesses and development partners has to come together to take this forward. The way technology is scaling, consumers are becoming digital natives and need for being environmentally conscious – cities have to become smart and not just digital.


  • 1.  World Population Prospects 2019, Population Division, United Nations, August 2019.
  • 2.  World Urbanization Prospects 2018, Population Division, United Nations, June 2018.
  • 3.  Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Last Accessed on: Jan 27, 2020.
  • 4. Country overview: Bangladesh – GSMA Intelligence, 2018.
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