A trio of Chinese Internet heavyweights say they are working with local governments across China to create 50 “smart cities” by the end of year, widening an initiative to help make municipal services more efficient and accessible to millions of mainland citizens.
The Internet companies–Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba Group and Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter–have already launched smart city projects in partnership with government agencies in a dozen cities, enabling residents to use their mobile phones to handle a range of city services such as marriage registration, online payment of traffic fines, checking bus routes and paying utility bills. The services are available through Alipay Wallet, Mobile Taobao and Weibo, popular mobile e-payment, online shopping and social networking apps that each with more than 175 million active users.
Zhiming Fan, president of Ant Financial’s domestic business division, said today at a press conference in Beijing the partners aim to “roll out similar access to public services in over 50 cities to reach an estimated 100 million residents by the end of 2015.”
The program debuted in Hangzhou last month. Since then, the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Ningbo, Qingdao, Nanchang and Shanxi Province’s Taiyuan, Datong, Yuncheng, Changzhi and Linfen cities have joined. Available services are being tailored to suit local needs, Ant Financial officials said. For example, residents of Guangzhou can use smart city apps to renew travel permits to nearby Hong Kong and Macau.
The cooperation between local governments and Internet companies is a response to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s “Internet Plus” strategy–a call for the country to leverage technologies in mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things to aid China’s competitiveness amid a secular economic slowdown.
Helping city governments become more efficient is also seen as a way address complaints in China’s largest cities that cumbersome bureaucracies make it difficult and time-consuming for residents to use public services. Alibaba’s cloud computing arm, Aliyun, has been working with 13 provincial governments including Guizhou Province and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to build cost-effective IT infrastructure; Aliyun is providing technical support to the smart cities program.
Ant Financial is affiliated with Alibaba Group, and its mobile payment app Alipay Wallet has more than 270 million active users. Residents from 361 cities and 27 provinces can pay their utility bills via Alipay.
Alibaba owns a minority stake in Weibo. At the end of last year, more than 130,000 government agencies had Weibo accounts to communicate with users and offer online services.