Seoul Smart City, the largest city and capital of South Korea, is a huge metropolis where modern skyscrapers, high-tech subways, and pop culture meet Buddhist temples, palaces, and street markets. Notable attractions include futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a convention hall with curving architecture and a rooftop park; Gyeongbokgung Palace, which once had more than 7,000 rooms; and Jogyesa Temple, site of ancient locust and pine trees.

Located at the heart of the Korean Peninsula, Seoul has always been an important strategic point throughout the centuries in terms of defense and the economy, from one kingdom to the next. The three kingdoms of Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla (BCE 57 – CE 688) all fought over the area that is now Korea’s capital. Indeed, whichever kingdom claimed Seoul became the dominant power. The Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910) declared Seoul its capital, a role that Seoul still playing.

Smart City Seoul, South Korea

3.341 Smart Points

Seoul Smart City Master Plan

It is a major who drives launched Seoul to move from the world’s best e-government to a much-coveted smart city.
The local government unveiled the big data-based Smart City master plan in several categories, including IoT-based Shared Parking System, Taxi with artificial intelligence, and smart surveillance cameras, according to the website of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Seoul invests 1.4 trillion won ($1.19 billion) in the innovation of the daily lives of citizens. City representatives plan to install over 50,000 sensors supporting IoT. These sensors transfer diverse urban life data into big data analytics.

There are hundreds of technological drivers that the Seoul Metropolitan Government included in their strategy of the digitalized city. If city worldwide representatives looking for a real treasure of ideas and case studies in practice, there is no better place than Seoul.

The mixture of tradition, leading-edge innovations, strict environmental politics, and people-oriented initiatives make Seoul a truly Smart City, and keep the ranking position #1 with Singapore.

Almost every part of a citizen’s life is guided by technology. Starting with their integrated public transport and ending with the e-government system and the government’s warning systems.

Seoul Smart City land featured

The significant role makes companies like Microsoft and Cisco who are making technology in Seoul and even the whole of South Korea. They constantly evolve the process. When you read about any new technology applied in the city, it is most likely Seoul who did it first – and most probably some time ago.

Following are a few examples of the technologies that make Seoul one of the world’s smartest cities.

The main steps to make Seoul city smart – digitalization

In 2012, Seoul started with the distribution of second-hand smart devices to low-income families. The city representatives encouraged citizens to replace their old devices and buy new ones, incentivized by a tax deduction.

  • Seoul provides education courses on smart consumer technologies since 2008
  • Offering lectures and city-funded classes through private education institutions
  • Forced low-income individuals and elderly people, as well as immigrants to use smart devices
  • Such an approach address in the future easier teaching of the basics of smart technology and giving to citizens the tools to improve smart Seoul’s services

Roads recharging vehicles during the drive

Online electric vehicle technology called also OLEV charges vehicles wirelessly from the road. As a bus or other vehicle drives through one of the recharging surfaces, based on the magnetic fields created between elements, the device installed on the vehicle body converts it into electricity. The strip can switch itself off when it’s not in use. As the buses don’t need to be a capable drive for a long distance for one charge, their batteries are much smaller than those in the usual electric vehicles in the same category.

u-Seoul Safety Service involves every citizen

u-Seoul Safety Service has been launched in April 2008, combining location services and CCTV technologies. This solution enables one to notify family members of emergencies of their relatives. This includes their children, the disabled, the elderly, and other health diseases. When its holder leaves a safe zone or pushes the emergency button, the alert is sent to guardians, police, fire, and CCTV Centers.

E-Governance of the city of Seoul

Seoul’s open governance strategy encourages transparent city governance. Such a solution Enabled communication between the city’s government and citizens. Citizens are consequently encouraged to make use of the city’s administrative information to uncover new jobs and business opportunities.

In March 2013, using GPS embedded in smartphones, the Seoul Metropolitan Government began to offer “Information around myself on maps,” a feature that provides information on locations of free Wi-Fi zones, disabled-friendly facilities, unmanned certification-issuing equipment, restrooms, and construction sites. There is also the Dasan Call Center, a 24/7 government agency that fields all questions regarding city services. Residents can also book public services and utilities through the internet 24/7.

Eunpyeong u-City

Eunpyeong u-City is perhaps the most “Big Brother” example of a smart city. It’s the result of a 7-year project completed in 2011 and now houses 45,000 people on land covering 862 acres. Eunpyeong’s residents do not require private Internet access or smart devices to make use of city services and instead receive practical information via smart devices on their living room walls. In the interests of residents’ safety, intelligent CCTV cameras installed on every street corner automatically detect people trespassing on private premises.

The city’s high-tech street lamps reduce energy use and provide residents with wireless internet access. The city’s u-Green service represents a network of sensors assessing factors such as water and air quality, transmitting this information directly to public spaces and the devices in citizens’ living rooms.

Virtual stores

The international grocery chain, Tescos has had virtual stores in Seoul in public spaces since 2011. Products are laid out just as they’d be in a traditional shop. The “shelves” feature QR codes which can be scanned by the traveler’s mobile phone, building up a shopping basket in the few minutes before the train arrives. If your train comes before your basket is complete, you can carry on shopping without the pictures and codes.

smart city seoul

Park Won-soon the Mayor of Seoul - the man who did it

What makes a city smart?

The “dynamics of the city” and the “participation of citizens” are the factors that make a city smart. A “smart city” is the product of mankind’s agony and introspection on how to make life happier and fuller, and the output of both the city and the citizens by actively realizing and using state-of-the-art technologies. Moreover, a smart city has become the most useful method to enhance the quality of life of citizens and an efficient tool to resolve global urban challenges. Beyond its dominant status as the best global e-government in the world for seven consecutive years, Seoul is now leaping forward as a leading smart city in the world based on big data and new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

More than anything else, the voluntary participation of Seoul citizens and the combination of new attempts and innovative challenges utilizing cutting-edge technologies by the public and private sectors are making Seoul’s own smart city differentiate itself from other cities. The “Digital Mayor’s Office” on one side of my office symbolizes the status of Seoul as a global smart city. It is a smart city digital platform where I can see the status of the entire city at a glance in real-time. It is one of the indispensable practices that the world’s mayors and delegations learn when they visit Seoul. Professor Susan Crawford of the Harvard Law School highly praised it as the sprout of democracy. It is a representative item of Seoul to present at CES 2020. I hope many people visit the Seoul booth in Eureka Park and enjoy the charm of the smart city of Seoul.

How is Seoul paving the way for other cities to become smart cities?

Ever since Rutgers University in the U.S. started the Global E-Governance Survey on the major 100 cities around the world, Seoul has never let go of its number one position in the performance of municipal e-government. Seoul is a state-of-the-art city that boasts the world’s best information and communication network where people can enjoy free high-speed Wi-Fi even in moving buses and subway trains. It also has the highest retention rate of smartphone users on the globe.

Based on these strengths, Seoul is now writing a new chapter in the history of smart cities in various areas that are closely linked with the lives of its citizens, such as in transportation, economy, and the environment. Among them, the area in great demand and with the biggest ripple effects on the citizens is transportation. Seoul has significantly enhanced the convenience of public transportation through “Seoul’s Intelligent Traffic System” (ITS), Smart Transportation Card, and Bus Information System (BIS).

In 2010, Seoul established the WeGO (World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization) to support sustainable urban development and also to narrow the information gap through exchanges and cooperations with world cities for the smart city area. WeGo has members from 177 cities and corporations. Seoul is also supporting other cities by exporting smart city solutions including TOPIS (Transport Operation and Information Service), loT-embedded LED streetlights, and smart garbage processing systems.

How are you using data to provide better experiences for city residents?

“Big Data,” so-called “the crude oil of the 21st century,” is the key driving force to operate a smart city. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has created the foundation to produce, store, process, and utilize big data, and is scientifically analyzing the data and making reasonable inferences. The goal of Seoul is to provide innovative alternatives to solve urban problems and to focus the city’s capabilities in making significant changes to the lives of the citizens.

The most representative case is the late-night bus called “Owl Bus,” which is an innovative scheme for night-time transportation. To determine the Owl Bus’s routes, we analyzed three billion cases of big data (i.e. mobile phone calls). A total of nine routes of the Owl Bus have been designated in the areas with the highest demand for public transportation at night-time. These buses are now responsible for the safe trip home for more than 10,000 people a night.

Moreover, Seoul combined the LTE signal data of mobile carriers and the public data of the city government and produced “Daily Population Data” that can be utilized in various areas, for instance, the analysis of commercial districts, marketing activities, welfare, transportation, and other various municipal policies. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is taking a step further to consecutively install 50,000 IoT-embedded sensors across the city and is gathering “city life data” including fine dust, noise, vibration, floating population, UV rays, and more.

With the accumulated data, Seoul is creating brand new services, such as Intelligent CCTV, AI taxis, and IoT sharing parking. In this process, the basic philosophy determining the success of smart city policies is “governance” and “openness.” The Seoul Metropolitan Government is establishing the “Data Storage” system where anyone can see and use the public data of Seoul. A total of 528 kinds of the city government’s administrative system data is expected to be stored. I look forward to seeing that big data and collective intelligence create innovative services so that every citizen is allowed to enjoy the benefits from it.

“The ‘Digital Mayor’s Office’ on one side of my office symbolizes the status of Seoul as a global smart city.”

Can you talk about sustainability issues and what you are doing to resolve them?

If the paradigm of “growth” and “development” was at the center of urban civilization in the 20th century, “sustainability” is what determines urban civilization in the 21st century. Seoul has achieved unprecedented rapid growth. However, it is also true that this growth-centered development left us with various wounds of environmental destruction, community breakdown, economic polarization, and other social problems. As the Mayor of Seoul, I took office with the aim of solving these challenges.

Therefore, after the inauguration, my priority was to recover the rights of people who were pushed back and neglected behind “development” and “growth,” and to redefine the owner of the city of Seoul as its citizens. Also, various initiatives related to welfare, economy, labor, energy, and the like have been implemented closely for the lives of the citizens. Seoul is pushing forward with “urban regeneration” instead of “demolishing” the city. During my tenure, I will significantly increase the amount of public housing by more than 400,000 — 10% more than the OECD average to secure the continuity and sustainability of housing welfare. In terms of energy policies, I will expand the production of new and renewable energies such as solar power, electric/hydrogen-powered vehicles and encourage citizen participation to prepare against energy depletion.

We also are systemizing sustainable development so that it can be applied to all municipal policies. Seoul has established the “Seoul-type Sustainable Development Implementation System” and is running the evaluation of sustainability across the administration. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that sustainability is the beginning and also the end of all policies of Seoul.

How did Seoul achieve the rank of the #1 smart city?

There are three factors that constitute a smart city: smart city infrastructure, innovative companies with cutting-edge technologies, and smart citizens. First, Seoul has a cutting-edge smart city infrastructure.

Korea is the first country that commercializes 5G communications, and you can gain free access to Wi-Fi even in moving buses and subway trains. Seoul is taking a step further to become a “free data city” by 2022, where anyone can use public Wi-Fi free of charge anywhere in the city. Public IoT networks will be expanded, where one can use services such as shared parking. Each citizen will save communications expenses and foreign tourists can also enjoy the same benefit. Second, in Seoul, innovative companies equipped with creative ideas and cutting-edge technologies can participate in the policy-making process. The private sector’s big data is a great resource. The public and private sectors can resolve urban problems together. We are making a new value chain in the process by creating opportunities to further develop the already verified technologies and making them profit-making models.

Third, Seoul is actively operating the “digital communication system” that connects the world-class smart infrastructure to smart citizens and expands citizens’ engagement. Some of the examples are “Democracy Seoul,” a citizen participation policy proposal platform; “M-Voting,” a mobile voting system; and “Seoul Online Civil Complaints,” an online/mobile window to register and process civil complaints.


How does South Korea encourage innovation?

As the Korean market is highly sensitive to technological changes, it is said that the products that succeed in Korea can succeed anywhere else in the world. As such, global companies regard Korea as a testbed where they can measure the success of their products. For these reasons, they are putting more effort into targeting the Korean market.
Besides, the well-acknowledged big companies in Korea, startups armed with creative ideas and innovative technologies are actively delving into the market to make the city one of the “Top 5 Global Startup Cities.” In cooperation with the Korean central government, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is taking a two-track strategy to alleviate regulations that deter corporate activities, while establishing a startup ecosystem where innovative companies can enjoy the new challenges without the fear of failure.

By 2022, we will raise an “Innovative Future Growth Fund” worth 1.2 trillion won to expand the startup investment market and to provide a customized service for startups from early-stage growth to global advancement. For companies at their early stages undergoing difficulties in attracting investment, Seoul makes bold investments in them so that their potential ideas can be realized into products within six months. It provides support throughout the entire process from business feasibility analysis, product design, and prototype production, to matching manufacturers with them.

What are you most excited to see at CES?

It is the first time for me, as the Mayor of Seoul and also in person, to participate in CES. I already have great expectations. I know CES is the most reliable testbed where we can measure the success or failure of all the outputs of innovations from around the world, and also a “museum of innovations” where we can witness the products that may lead our future markets in advance.

I am looking forward to the innovations of global companies and the creative passion that I will see there. The innovation and creativity that I will experience at CES will serve as a precious foundation and an insight for me to make Seoul a greater city.

If you want to know what’s happening with smart cities, then look no further than Seoul. The capital of one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations was an early investor in smart technology.

At last week’s Smart City World Expo in Barcelona, Jong-Sung Hwang, former CIO of the Seoul metropolitan government, informed of the city’s attempt to capture real-time traffic data. For years the city invested millions of dollars in sensors embedded into the road infrastructure.

“But we failed again and again,” said Hwang. “It cost a lot … but the traffic information was not correct so could not be used.” In 2012, however, the city’s 25,000 taxis introduced a touch card payment system using GPS technology, effectively giving Seoul the real-time traffic information it had long craved at a fraction of the cost. “A smart city can now use smart technology and solve problems without changing the city infrastructure”, said Hwang.


However, for a smart city industry worth $400bn globally, there is much more money to be made in embedding sensors than in analyzing existing datasets. And while data given passively or pro-actively by citizens wielding smartphones are by far the most important smart city development of recent years, not everyone at the World Expo seemed ready to admit it.

The word “social”, Ana Cocho Bermejo, COO of Citycise said, made investors run a mile. “Since the 1950s we have been talking about this idea of the city as a complex system … the part that currently has a business model is the part related to this system: management, energy efficiency, mobility – all the smart city industry is fed into that. But the other part, which is social innovation and social engagement, they really don’t know how to make a business model out of it… [citizens] are giving a lot of data, we are telling everybody a lot of things, so can we close the circle and revert it back to the citizens for the improvement of their everyday life.”

There is some evidence of this starting to happen. Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts, project manager, Forum Virium Helsinki, has helped establish an Open311 API in the Finnish capital. Effective coupling of centralized smart technology and citizen participation builds on the US idea of a 3-1-1 phone line to report non-emergency issues, adding a website and smartphone app with the ability to send photos.

“Cities are opening up more and more data, but the development of citizen feedback systems has not been so fast”, explained Niemi-Hugaerts. “Often it disappears to this black hole called ‘info@…’.”. In contrast, an Open311 interface “allows citizens to send photos or update reports on anything from potholes to traffic signs, the imagination is the limit”, she said. Open311 is also an open dataset, “allowing third-party developers or the citizens themselves to develop apps or services”, said Niemi-Hugaerts.

The mood from industry is that is still yearning for Seoul’s intelligent roads, not bottom-up solutions. Rio de Janeiro won best smart city 2013 at the World Expo, its Central Operations Centre the poster child of smart cities – a hub of 400 staff, myriad screens and an 80 square meter master screen, viewing images from the streets, a smart map of live city transport, even predictive analytics and “hot topic sensing” looking at trends and keywords used by residents in social media to try and nip problems in the bud as (or before) they occur.

Rio is the epitome of the centralized, hi-tech approach to shepherding citizens. Yet its chief of staff Pedro Paulo Carvalho told me this was no longer sufficient: “The first stage of a smart city [is] to have the basic [central] infrastructure. Now the real challenge is the second phase, to integrate those systems into daily life, to open up our data … for citizens in a way that they can actually use it. The concept of a ‘smart citizen’ is one that is engaged in the decision-making process.” Despite the city’s awards, it still has some way to go.

There is a middle ground emerging also – the “internet of things”. This is the vision of a smart city formed household by household. Kevin Ashton, the founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center, gave the example of smart water meters. “About 40% of indoor water consumption is wasted, it’s leaking, it’s leaving taps on … if we could just capture the information about that and show it back to people who are consuming it they will waste less, it’s really simple”. An under-the-sink meter costing less than $100 and designed by his team will tell householders what’s being used – and leaked – where. Another example saw houseplants tweeting owners when they needed watering. “

The evolution of the smart city will involve all the above. At the end of 2013, no city can truly claim to be a smart city, and it would take a complex set of collaborations to achieve that status. Centralized operations systems must engage with citizens not simply monitor them; citizen groups must question policy and the use of big data, while also contributing to it; smart sensors in streets are still needed, as are those we choose to put into outhouses. A holistic approach to smart city planning seems possible, but we are not there yet. And in the defense of the major technology firms, the political infrastructure is not there yet either.

“The main challenges are not technological,” said Alex Mestre, marketing director of Spain’s Abertis Telecom, “we can do that pretty well. The big challenge I believe is in the political domain … what we need is a clear indication from the municipality what has to be done, the silo barriers in the different departments have to be broken… and a political mandate [in place] before we can roll out anything. Otherwise, it will be only nice experiments.” In other words, the technology is already out there – but are we smart enough to use it?

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Seoul Sumarized

Seoul city is known for its innovative technology and smart city initiatives. Some examples of interesting innovations and technology that have been implemented in Seoul include:

  1. Smart Transportation: Seoul has implemented various smart transportation systems, such as the world’s largest NFC-enabled transportation card system, which allows for easy and convenient payment of public transportation fares.
  2. IoT Technology: Seoul has made use of IoT technology in various ways, such as using sensors to monitor air quality and to optimize the delivery of city services.
  3. Smart City Platform: Seoul has developed a smart city platform that integrates various city data and services to improve the lives of citizens and visitors.
  4. 5G Network: Seoul has been working on implementing 5G network to improve connectivity and support new technologies such as IoT, autonomous cars and smart city solutions.
  5. Smart Street Lighting: Seoul has implemented smart street lighting systems that can adjust the brightness of street lights based on the time of day and the presence of pedestrians and vehicles.
  6. Intelligent Surveillance: Seoul has implemented intelligent surveillance systems that can detect and respond to potential security threats in real-time.
  7. Smart Waste Management: Seoul has implemented a smart waste management system that uses IoT technology to optimize the collection and disposal of waste.

These are just a few examples, but there are many other innovative technologies and initiatives being implemented in Seoul as well.

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