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A Unique Smart City Vision in Barcelona

NEC designs a prosperous future for people, communities and lifestyles

In November 2023, NEC exhibited a booth in a section of the Japan Pavilion at the "Smart City Expo World Congress 2023" in Barcelona, Spain — one of the world's biggest smart city events. At the panel discussion and seminar, NEC promoted our unique smart city vision using case studies from Japan and other countries and it was well received. How was NEC's concept of a "Prosperous Future for People, Cities and Societies" portrayed in Barcelona?

NEC's exhibit at one of the world's biggest smart city events

On November 7–9, 2023, the Smart City Expo World Congress 2023 (from here on, the "Expo") was held in Barcelona, Spain. Held every year since 2011, it is one of the world's biggest smart city events. City leaders promoting smart cities and green cities worldwide gather together with companies and groups offering technologies and solutions to exhibit display booths and hold international conferences.

Participating in the Expo again this year, NEC stood out among all the Japanese companies taking part. Aalok Kumar, NEC Corporate Senior Vice President and Head of the Global Smart City Business Development Department, and NEC Fellow Yasunori Mochizuki spoke during a panel discussion held as part of a global partnership program. Mr. Kumar suggested the possibilities for transformation that innovative solutions, such as AI and smart infrastructure, will offer to cities, but at the same time, he questioned whether the world's cities are ready for the digital future. Mr. Mochizuki emphasized the need for innovative and savvy governance, saying "Cities continue to explore strategies to get ahead of climate change and other unprecedented challenges, from adopting new technologies to rebuilding infrastructure and encouraging global business."

Meanwhile, a Japan Pavilion was set up in the exhibition hall as the booth display. The overarching theme was "Smart Cities to Improve the Well-being of City Residents," and it was sponsored by the Smart City Institute Japan — a public-private-academic partnership platform. Including the adjacent Tokyo Metropolitan Government booth, the space was 408 m²—1.5 times greater than last year—making it one of the largest booths from public sector groups exhibited at the Expo.

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Twenty-five organizations including the Cabinet Office, local governments, research institutes, and private companies exhibited at the Japan Pavilion. At the NEC booth, close to 50 employees from its group and global country affiliates worked together as one NEC to introduce the company's vision for smart cities from a global perspective. This also attests to NEC's enthusiasm for promoting the smart city business from a global perspective.

NEC's booth was visited by a large number of people from both Japan and abroad. Miyuki Kuru, Assistant Manager of the Global Smart City Business Development Department, comments:

Miyuki Kuru
Assistant Manager,
Global Smart City Business Development Department

"Take Lisbon in Portugal, where we use AI and IoT technologies to collect and analyze data across the city to deliver better services to residents and tourists. Or look at Silvassa, a city in India where our integrated command and control center is making public services more convenient for citizens while helping to manage the city safely and securely. Many people were surprised by the capability and experience of NEC when we presented these examples. Attendees from 28 countries visited our booth, which shows the growth of global interest and marketability of smart cities. In some instances, we received interest from global startups looking to strengthen their relationships with us."

"Now more than ever, Europe is focusing on actions to combat global warming. As in previous years, buzzwords such as 'CO2 reduction,' 'green cities' and 'blue carbon' were common, and this trend was more pronounced than last year," said Shuichi Noguchi, who is led the exhibition set up and operations, giving his overall impression of the Expo.

Katsuyuki Fukazawa, responsible for sales for Japan’s smart city business, said, "At the recent COP28, our President and CEO Mr. Morita underscored the importance of investing in adaptive measures to minimize the damage caused by extreme weather events such as torrential rains and heat waves, and I was reminded of the importance of this outlook in building smart cities. One of NEC's advantages is our Digital Twin technology, which projects the future by digitally building a city. However, I also noticed this trend spreading to companies across the globe. In addition, smart cities that are resilient to climate change and other factors are being considered not just by governments, government agencies, and businesses, but also by residents. Building smart cities through citizen participation. At the Expo, we saw that momentum building."

Katsuyuki Fukazawa
Senior Manager
Domestic Smart City Sales Department
2nd Domestic Solution Group

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NEC's smart city vision involves organically connecting cities to create a prosperous future for people, cities, and societies. It envisions a future in which industries and cities develop by shaping regions and cultures where diverse identities harmonize, building autonomous cities driven by residents and communities, and creating new economic zones through regional cooperation.

What can NEC do to bring about this future? One thing is to use our consulting skills, honed through our experience in urban management. NEC has a proven track record of promoting public-private-academic partnerships, such as with the Smart City Social Implementation Consortium.

Another thing NEC can do is introduce and promote standardized technologies for smart cities in the future. NEC offers a platform called "NEC City OS," which connects information on cities and people by linking data across sectors and communities as a means to resolve complicated community issues and create new services.

NEC intends to incorporate various microservices into this platform, such as biometric authentication and ID management, so that these services can be used universally. In the platform, NEC will use both services it has developed and open-source software. In addition, NEC is responsible for operating the open-source FIWARE Japanese community "iHub Base," and also promotes open innovation by leveraging cross-business consortiums, such as the Smart City Social Implementation Consortium. As one of the world leaders in network technology, NEC is pioneering standardized technologies such as the data exchange infrastructure "GAIA-X" and the next-generation network infrastructure "3GPP".
NEC's world-class core technologies in digital twins, generative AI, and 5G play a vital role in shaping the future of smart cities.

Shuichi Noguchi
Senior Professional
Business Strategy Group
Domestic Smart City Sales Department

"It is essential that we work to anticipate and shape the future to solve challenges that are becoming more complex . NEC has a wealth of experience in the construction of various smart cities in Japan and globally, and has been refining the necessary technology to this day." 

Summing up NEC's presence at the Expo, Mr. Noguchi concluded, "In my opinion, NEC did a good job of communicating its overall business value and proposition to our customers at this year's Expo.

Raising awareness of smart cities among Japanese local governments

One of the benefits of this Expo was the increased scope of Japanese interest — with more than ten local governments exhibiting in the Japan Pavilion, Japanese local governments were enthusiastic about their work at the Expo. The mayor of the City of Tsukuba spoke at the Global Congress Session and the mayor of Nago City spoke at the Japan Pavilion Mini-Seminar. One of them was by Mr. Tatsuo Igarashi, Mayor of the City of Tsukuba, which was designated as a Super City Special Zone by the Cabinet Office. Rather than simply talking about the philosophy of smart cities, Mr. Igarashi demonstrated his leadership as a local government leader in solving specific problems facing local community. This message resonated with the global audience.

There is a growing interest in smart cities among Japanese local governments, and part of this is undoubtedly due to participation in the Expo. 

The City of Kobe, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the City of Chiba, the Osaka Prefectural Government, the City of Osaka, the City of Yokohama, the Town of Sakai in Ibaraki Prefecture, and Kyoto City also presented their smart city initiatives at their booths. In addition, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government held "SusHi Tech Tokyo" again this year as a stand-alone exhibition. Tokyo has positioned itself as a city trying to solve common global urban challenges through innovation and disseminating future urban models.

Hamamatsu City has been working for some time to become a smart city through public-private partnerships, and became the first Japanese local government to join the FIWARE Foundation, holding a signing ceremony at the Expo site and highlighting the strong interest from Japanese local governments. It is also showing how Japanese local governments are aligning to international standards and have begun to proactively communicate with the rest of the world.

The NEC case studies enhanced the understanding of how Japan can accelerate smart cities initiatives and drive smart cities adoption in local municipalities. Local government officials in Japan were also enthusiastic about the global case studies NEC showcased at its booth. Ms. Kuru, who explained the program to local government leaders who visited the booth, had this to say:

"It is a great opportunity to see demos and interact with people, which is why Japanese local governments participate in the Expo. They seem to have seriously explored whether global use cases could be applied to future initiatives in their own cities, and whether the initiatives could be scaled horizontally. When I saw the reactions of the local government leaders, it made me realize that the Expo is an international platform and a showcase for the realization of smart cities."

The Expo was complemented by a tour of the city of Barcelona to see the progress that is currently being made to turn it into a smart city. This includes 'Superblocks,' a human-centered urban planning solution where sections of city blocks are divided into a grid pattern and blocked off, with only local residents' cars, bicycles, and pedestrians permitted to use the roads inside the block. It is an attempt to rebuild communities by closing streets to traffic, allowing the city's residents to enjoy a calm oasis within the concrete jungle. They're just one hint of how smart cities are going to evolve.

Expectations on disaster prevention solutions in Japan

The Expo served as an opportunity for the participants from Japan to learn from overseas case studies, but it was also an opportunity for participants from all over the world to draw inspiration from the unique smart cities in Japan. NEC has also intensified its communication with local governments in Japan about its initiatives, attracting a great deal of interest from major cities worldwide. Among these initiatives, there was a great deal of interest in Japan's advanced capabilities in disaster mitigation such as its nationwide disaster prevention solutions in response to recent climate change and frequent natural disasters. 

"In the Middle East and Asia, for example, there have been unprecedented floods. So, because Japan is a disaster-prone country, many people have asked how smart city solutions are being integrated in Japan," noted Ms. Kuru.

The need for self-help, mutual aid, and public assistance to minimize the damage from natural disasters has long been recognized. Mr. Fukazawa notes the importance of smart cities as places where mutual aid could be demonstrated.

He added, "One example of mutual aid is assistance in an emergency evacuation. NEC is working on visualizing this. It is creating a mutual aid system that incorporates past disaster case studies and maps of vulnerable populations held by local government, and involves a collaborative effort between neighborhood associations, public assistance committees, and volunteer fire departments. In Japan, there is also a trend toward the establishment of disaster recovery agreements with other local municipalities outside the immediate area in anticipation of disasters. This approach is based on mutual support between local governments, and will be indispensable for the future construction of smart cities across the world. In addition, by presenting an investment plan for adaptation measures to mitigate natural disasters, companies can support and assist local municipalities in areas other than information and communications technology. The cooperative efforts of Japanese local municipalities and businesses in disaster mitigation are a model for the world to follow in the future." "I strongly encourage local municipalities to showcase their smart city initiatives focusing on disaster prevention at the next Expo," appealed Mr. Fukazawa.

Leveraging on our success in making cities safer utilizing a data-driven approach, NEC is expected to become a hub for bringing together people, experiences and technologies to create smart cities.

Translated by NEC based on the Nikkei online advertorial.

March 28, 2024