How the Internet of Things Can Make Cities More Livable

The Internet of Things covers a wide range of digital technologies that can help cities harness real-time data to efficiently manage complex urban systems, including water, energy, waste, and transportation. Photo: ADB.

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Internet-connected “smart” devices can help transform fast-developing cities in Asia and the Pacific into safe and sustainable urban centers.


Advancements in digital technologies, specifically the Internet of Things or IoT, is leading the fourth industrial revolution. The McKinsey Global Institute sees the economic impact of IoT to be in the range of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion per year by 2025.

In urban development, IoT has the potential to help cities pursue a sustainable development path by increasing efficiency in the use of energy and other resources.

This article was adapted from content featured on Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities website.

What is the Internet of Things?

Essentially, IoT deals with communication between people and machines, machines to machines, and machines to institutions, and vice versa. Its components include sensors, identified “things” on which these sensors are applied, programming algorithms, and communication equipment and networks (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things

What can solutions based on IoT technology do?

Any IoT-enabled solution has the following capabilities:

  • mechanisms to collect data from varied sources, and enable its secured storage, analysis, and decision making;
  • usage of different forms of information communication networks to enable machine-to-machine, people-to-machine, and machine-to-institutions flow of information; and
  • services components for creation and maintenance of software and hardware to execute smart functions.
How can IoT support the sustainable development goals?

IoT started with smart meters and smart thermostats, which are internet-connected devices that send data. Since then, the technology has been used not just in the energy sector but also in other infrastructure projects, such as urban development and transport. For example, the project can be a smart city, smart grid, or intelligent transport, with IoT serving as the central nervous system for the smart technology. ​

In urban development, IoT can help cities become more livable, making them green, competitive, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable. In Asia and the Pacific, where there is rapid urbanization, IoT solutions can enable cities to shift to a more sustainable development path.

In the urban development operations of Asian Development Bank, for example, IoT can be utilized in each of the five urban solution pathways—water, nature, equity, resilience, and digital—to add value and innovation, and thereby further enhance development. Figure 2 below is a schematic representation of the interconnection between livable cities and the Internet of Things.

Figure 2: Capitalizing on Internet of Things can lead to smart, competitive, and livable cities

Capitalizing on Internet of Things can lead to smart, competitive, and livable cities

For more information on IoT and how it can inform project design, read The Internet of Things in the Power Sector: Opportunities in Asia and the Pacific.


A. Ramamurthy and P. Jain. 2017. The Internet of Things in the Power Sector: Opportunities in Asia and the Pacific. Sustainable Development Working Papers. No. 48. Mandaluyong: Asian Development Bank.

A. Ramamurthy. 2017. Advancing the Internet of Things in Asia. Livable Cities. September.

Related links

Case Study: Sustainable Water Management for Smart Cities

Summary: Four Ways Smart Technology Can Help Farmers

Insight: A Surprising Strategy for Harnessing the Internet for Development

Arun Ramamurthy
Principal Infrastructure Specialist (Digital Technology), Transport Sector Office, Sectors Group, Asian Development Bank

Arun Ramamurthy designs and implements high level technology solutions and innovations in development economics. His recent work includes implementation of Affordable Green Housing project and processing Green and Smart Logistics Management solutions in Mongolia and the People’s Republic of China.  He is involved in conceptualizing Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence solutions through ADB interventions in several countries. He was with Tata Consultancy Services in India, and worked in the United States, United Kingdom, and Singapore before joining ADB.

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