May 9, 2018
by Irina Linnik

Burst of blockchain development in UAE: Dubai is confidently becoming world’s first Smart City

Smart Dubai close to rolling out 20 blockchain-based services

We have already written about Smart Dubai, which is a government initiative that was launched in order to turn Dubai into maximally convenient place for its citizens and increase their level of happiness.

The concept of smart city has been around for a while but UAE is the first region to actually realize it in real life.

In recent time Dubai has been rapidly transforming into a new international IT-hub so no wonder it’s quickly implementing the most cutting-edge technologies and trends into city services.

One of the latest implementations is heavy use of blockchain and by 2020 Dubai is planning to roll out 20 blockchain-based services in a number of civic agencies, including the Roads and Transport Authority, in order to bring greater efficiency into the governmental processes.

On January 14-15 the Unlock Blockchain Forum was held in Dubai. The forum was dedicated to the blockchain technology and the list of speakers included Aisha Bint Buti bin Bisher, General Director of Smart Dubai.

During her speech, Ms Bisher said that Dubai aims to become the blockchain capital of the world and she also added that blockchain will improve people’s experience.

"The applications are in various fields, some of them are in RTA, road and transport, some of them are in energy, health and education. These 20 cases are under pilot, and we are looking forward to see the result so we can scale it", she said during her presentation.

Ms Bisher added that Smart Dubai set a deadline for 2020 to roll its blockchain strategy out but it seems likely to complete it in 2018. For example, blockchain is already used in land registry transactions.

According to estimations, the move to the blockchain will improve the delivery of basic government services by saving over 25 million productivity hours per year.

In order to ensure the seamless process of blockchain utilization, Smart Dubai partnered with IBM and Consensys who are acting as strategic consultants and advisers. Nevertheless IBM competitors are likely to show up shortly, as the region is becoming really attractive for professional blockchain implementations.

Blockchain is a digital technology that, according to the authors of Blockchain Revolution (2016), “can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value”.

By using cryptography (a technique for secure communication), blockchain brings efficiency into data and financial transactions.

It’s incorruptible, transparent and robust – and today it’s mostly associated with bitcoin, the cryptocurrency which caused great hype in the IT world and captured the world’s imagination.

The technology behind bitcoin is being used in many areas of life, including finance and is aimed to deliver money and information safely and quickly.

More and more governments in the Arabian Gulf area are investing in the technology as a way to diversify away from relying too heavily on oil revenues.

Blockchain will eliminate all paperwork from Dubai Government departments in four years.

If you need a more concrete example of how blockchain will benefit the governmental services, we can say that all Dubai Government departments are planning to stop using paperwork in four years. This will be part of program aimed at curbing waste, according to the Crown Prince.

Officials are planning to celebrate the very last governmental paper transaction in the Emirates in 2021 – and while it sounds ambitious it seems as if UAE can pull it out indeed.

The initiative was launched by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.

As he correctly stated, digital transactions save time and resources greatly and Smart Dubai will be responsible for overseeing the project. It was estimated that the move would save 25 million work hours annually and cut almost 100 million paper transactions.

The Dubai Pulse platform will compile all the data in both public and private sectors, for the first time providing access to live and up-to-date information about the city.

Its first layer will be free of charge and will be related to the public. The second will offer a thorough analysis of the data for a fee, while the third layer will serve government agencies alone.

The four-year plan contains of smart initiatives, including infrastructure, legislation and applications in line with the requirements of the Dubai 10X initiative. The initiative was launched in February and will utilize the disruptive innovation method, meaning it will create new operating and business models and focus on value for end-users and customers.

The plan goes in line with the UAE Centennial 2071, which was launched in March to make the UAE the best country in the world.

The partnership of UAE Exchange and blockchain start-up Ripple: more value and opportunities

Remittance house will be using blockchain technology for cross-border payments.

UAE Exchange, one of the region's biggest money exchange houses, entered into an agreement with the US blockchain start-up Ripple to facilitate real-time cross-border remittance payments in order to bring the cost of transactions down for its customers.

Blockchain enables electronic transaction-processing and archive system that allows parties to track information in a secure network without the need for third-party verification.

Remittance houses currently have to tackle administrative costs in the form of third-party foreign exchange handlers, which also hikes costs for their customers.

Banks, exchange houses and other financial services companies are now actively looking at adopting emerging technologies to cut the costs of doing business in a competitive market.

UAE Exchange is among the oldest remittance houses in the Middle East and India, with 800 outlets in 31 countries. Under the partnership, it joins RippleNet, the San Francisco-based start-up’s network of more than 100 banks and financial institutions.

Members use Ripple’s blockchain technology for payments, messaging, clearing and settlement of financial transactions. Customers, meanwhile, will be able to send money overseas faster and cheaper than they would otherwise.

Ripple claims its technology can process 1,000 transactions per second. It uses a “bridge” currency called XRP to quickly settle cross-border payments.

While the concept of Smart Dubai sounds ambitious enough, we should not under-estimate it, considering all the innovations that are already taking place in the country.

The current situation with technological boom also creates incredibly profitable environment for the development companies in UAE region as they can contribute to turning Dubai into smart city and at the same time become recognized by investors and clients.

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