Smart Cities |


Municipalities throughout Israel are in the midst of joining the global Smart City trend and upgrading the level of service provided to residents — each city according to its own vision and character

Rachel Kaplan
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A Smart City is generally defined as one that integrates information and communication technology and Internet of Things (IoT) technology in a secure fashion to improve the level of municipal services. Since this definition is rather general and can be interpreted in many different ways, its not surprising that Israeli municipalities are implementing the Smart City agenda in such diverse manners.

Smart City prize for Tel Aviv

If Israel is the Start-Up Nation, then Tel Aviv is its capital. Well aware of the citys reputation as a magnet for entrepreneurs and, indeed, for young trendsetters, Tel Avivs municipality is staying in step with its constituents by implementing a groundbreaking Smart City system.

Accessing the DigiTel system from the Tel Aviv boardwalkCredit: Kfir Bolotin

Being a Smart City is a very high priority for the Tel Aviv, asserts Eytan Schwartz, CEO of Tel Aviv Global & Tourism, who is instrumental in overseeing Tel Avivs Smart City operations. Its a process that took 15 years. Our goal is to dramatically improve the life of the residents through technology.

At the Tel Aviv Municipality, an in-house team developed a sophisticated platform called DigiTel that facilitates personalized interaction between the residents and the Municipality. Tel Aviv won first place in the international Smart City competition that took place in Barcelona in 2014 thanks to DigiTel, positioning the city at the vanguard in this field on a global scale.

Over one-third of Tel Aviv residents have already voluntarily joined DigiTel, which is essentially the largest members club in Israel. Upon joining, they fill out a simple questionnaire about the ages of their family members, their address and their interests. They must also indicate which types of municipal services they are interested in receiving information about, and how they prefer to receive that information – by email, text messages, Facebook, etc

The DigiTel system uses the basic information provided by the residents to send updates about events, municipal services and special benefits that are relevant to each person. For example, if I have three young children and am interested in art and culture, and I prefer to receive information through text messages, the system will send me 2-3 relevant messages a week, perhaps telling me that there are several tickets left for a specific performance at the Cameri Theater or else informing me that there will be a free concert for children on Saturday afternoon, explains Schwartz. In this way, residents receive only the information that is pertinent to them. For the Municipality, it is an extremely efficient and inexpensive way to be connected to residents and provide optimal service. The system also encourages civic participation since it can be used to receive input from Tel Aviv residents through questionnaires, requests, voting and so on.

In order for DitiTel to work, the Municipality enlisted 200 knowledge champions from all of the different departments, and they are responsible for continuously updating a special portal about the goings-on in the city. A small group of professional editors decides what to do with all the information that is uploaded, ensuring that the residents receive the most relevant and up-to-date content.

Two months ago, Tel Aviv sold the DigiTel system to a city in India that has 2.5 million residents, and plans are underway to sell it to other cities around the world. This is the first time that the Municipality sells a product that it has developed, and its a very prestigious achievement.

State-of-the-art network for Jerusalem      

While Tel Aviv has been developing its Smart City system for years, Jerusalem will be the first city in the country to install an innovative wireless network using millimeter-wave technology. This new network will enable the city to provide a wide range of advanced services such as cameras, control and emergency services, smart parking solutions, rapid Internet for the citys educational system, free wi-fi throughout the city, high-speed data transmissions and more.

Of all places, it is in one of the oldest cities in the world that we find some of the most innovative projects in Israel, says Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, adding that, We are positioning Jerusalem on an equal plane with the worlds leading Smart Cities,

Indeed, the City of Jerusalem is the first municipality in the country to be authorized by the Ministry of Communications to establish an independent wireless city-wide communications network using millimeter-wave technology. This is necessary because it isnt possible to install optic fibers in Jerusalem due to its unique geologic structure. The system is based on tiny boxes that emit pencil-thin beams using very high frequencies, explains Eitan Barzilay, Head of Business Development and Innovation at the Jerusalem Municipality. The equipment has very low radiation levels, even lower than regular home routers thanks to the high frequency.

A milimeter-wave traffic camera in Jerusalem — part of the city's new Smart City networkCredit: Ciity of Jerusalem

The network is now being rolled out city-wide, and is expected to become operational in April 2018. It will allow us to offer our residents and local businesses new, advanced services, and will enable the Municipality to manage the city more efficiently, says Barzilay, adding that, thanks to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud platform and a new chatbot-based phone system, residents will have much better access to the Municipality and will even be able to participate in decision making.

Thanks to the new system, which will include high-definition cameras, city officials will be able to see in real time everything thats happening at hundreds of crucial sites around the city. Since the cameras will transmit high-quality video feeds to the municipal service center and to the security forces., officials will be able to control events more effectively.

A different type of smart

In addition to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many other Israeli cities of varying sizes are jumping on the Smart City bandwagon. Kiryat Gat, Eilat, Ramat Gan and many others are in the process of installing high-tech communication systems designed to improve municipal efficiency and the level of service for residents. Other cities are focusing on upgrading their cities by building a strong local community of entrepreneurs.

Haifa is an example of a city that is doing both. A sophisticated app connects residents with the Haifa Municipality, sending residents text messages relevant to their specific neighborhood. The app is a very efficient way to communicate with residents both in normal times and during crises.

Haifa is also deeply committed to the development of the citys entrepreneurial and innovation sector. We organize a quarterly forum for all the people in Haifa involved with high-tech and start-ups, including representatives from major international companies, local accelerators, academia and private entrepreneurs, explains Dr. Galit Rand, Head of the Strategic Planning and Research Division at the Haifa Municipality. There are also special evenings organized for this cohort, with entertainment and opportunities to network.

Beer Sheva is another city that is in the midst of a modernization process, spurred by the relocation of IDF technology units to the Negev and the new Israeli Cyber Innovation Arena, called CyberSpark, a joint venture of the Israel National Cyber Bureau, Beer Sheva Municipality, Ben Gurion University and leading cybersecurity companies. CyberSpark gathers constellations of leading multinational corporations, governmental and military units, start-ups, R&D centers, incubators and training centers, creating an unparalleled cyber ecosystem.

According to Roni Zehavi, CEO of CyberSpark, having such a cyber cluster is expected to spill over into other areas, ultimately galvanizing the city to be smarter in a whole range of fields, including finance, transportation, aviation, healthcare and utility infrastructure.

Like most of the major modern cities around the world, almost every Israeli municipality and regional council is eager to be designated a Smart City and is currently in the process of implementing steps to reach this goal.