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The world’s top 10 hi-tech cities

Pirelli –
Almost by definition, cities have always been hubs for innovation. Keeping large numbers of citizens alive, healthy and commercially prosperous inevitably requires a certain level of technological advancement. From the Romans’ highly innovative water infrastructure to the earthquake-proof buildings of Tokyo and the urban mass-transit systems of London and New York, new technology has made the growth and development of very large cities possible. And as the wealth-creating engines of the global economy move relentlessly towards our urban centres, the technology that underpins them is growing rapidly in importance.As the wealth-creating engines of the global economy move relentlessly towards our urban centres, the technology that underpins them is growing rapidly in importance.By that definition, most of the world’s cities are already hi-tech. The internet in particular, and the smart connected services it enables, has changed the way we operate at every scale of our lives – and cities everywhere have already been transformed by it. Technology is being implemented at every layer of urban society, from smarter transport systems to new energy-efficient buildings and ever-faster connectivity. But to paraphrase George Orwell – a writer who gave a lot of thought to the ways our societies might develop – some are more hi-tech than others. Seoul has long been known for the reach and speed of its broadband connections, bringing faster services to more citizens. London is a whirlwind of fintech activity, overwhelmed with start-ups building the next big things for the financial services industry. Indeed, most of the planet’s developed conurbations can claim some kind of hi-tech speciality. Gaming in Stockholm; hardware design and manufacture in Taipei; robotics and biotech in Boston. Some seem to have it all; San Francisco and the wider Bay area, home to so many of the innovations we take for granted today, is awash with tech companies, venture capitalists and the boundless entrepreneurial spirit endemic across California. But there’s a lot happening in the less celebrated and fashionable urban hubs, too. In America, for example, a country where Silicon Valley has long dominated the tech scene, hi-tech culture is also thriving in Chicago, Washington DC and Los Angeles, with thousands of start-ups in each. Mexico City is World Design Capital for 2018, while Guadalajara further south is home to a new Digital Creative City. From Sweden to Singapore, from Bangalore to Berlin, hi-tech is growing at an ever-accelerating rate. So where’s the best place to set up your hi-tech business? Which are the top cities for future growth across technology sectors? Which market is most likely to respond favourably to new ideas? And critically, which are actually implementing advanced technology rather than simply developing it? Any ranking of hi-tech cities can only ever present a glimpse of the whole picture, but here’s a snapshot of the world’s top 10, according to different aspects of technological advancement. 

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1) Seoul: Broadband

Broadband speed and penetration is a key indicator of technological advancement and readiness, thanks to our social, cultural and economic dependence on the internet. Most citizens of major cities now have access to fast broadband, as telecommunications companies upgrade and expand their networks and FTTP (fibre to the premises) technology becomes a widespread adjunct to ADSL running on copper wires. In 2017, a survey by the US cloud services provider Akamai showed that South Korea had the fastest average broadband speed, a blazing 28.6 Mbps – well ahead of Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong and Switzerland in the world’s top five. It also has the highest adoption rates for fast broadband, putting Seoul firmly at the top of the hi-tech list. 

2) Helsinki: Smartphones

Few devices are as ubiquitous today as the smartphone. Measured by numbers alone, East Asian cities head this particular league – smartphone ownership approaches 100 per cent in Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei, with Beijing at the very top. Many other cities, such as London and Barcelona, have well advanced infrastructures in place for optimising smartphone use – open data sets enabling innovative apps, for example. But Finland is in the lead for smartphone data usage, with users averaging nearly 11 gigabytes a month – putting Helsinki on top of the world. 

3) San Francisco/Silicon Valley: Jobs

Conventional measures of hi-tech jobs are under siege as India and China’s tech industries accelerate. From a call-centre support perspective, Bangalore is probably home to the largest number of tech workers. And more than 100,000 workers are housed at Shanghai’s Zhanjiang Hi-Tech Park, spread across thousands of tech and venture-capital companies. Meanwhile, London and New York both have rapidly growing start-up and coding cultures that are boosting job numbers. But the Silicon Valley region/San Francisco still leads the world in the sheer numbers of start-ups, programmers, designers and tech support workers that form the industry’s epicentre. 

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4) Boston: Robotics and AI

For many years, Tokyo and Osaka in Japan have been at the forefront of consumer robotics innovation. But as the focus on automation and artificial intelligence takes hold around the globe, many other centres of robotic and AI excellence are being established, everywhere from Seoul to Zurich. In terms of pure robotics, though, America is still home to some of the most advanced research, with Boston continue to innovate quickly thanks to decades of investment at both the educational and commercial level. 

5) San Francisco/Silicon Valley: Self-driving cars

Few subjects have grabbed the imagination of tech watchers as firmly as self-driving cars. Today around 50 cities worldwide are running so-called autonomous vehicle pilots, from Adelaide in Australia to Wuhan in China. But most of the action is currently happening in America, where the core underlying technology is being developed by companies such as Google, Tesla and Uber. That puts San Francisco and Silicon Valley way ahead in the self-driving vehicle revolution. 

6) Hong Kong: Biometrics

As our cities become smarter and more digital services become available, the need for fast and reliable identification and authentication becomes ever more important. While many have implemented face, fingerprint and palm-based authentication for ATMs, payment systems and immigration barriers, few have fully navigated the complexities of security, privacy and data misuse that accompany them. Many problems are still to be solved. Hong Kong is one of the few cities to have issued specific guidelines on the collection and use of biometric data, and fingerprint data is embedded in its identity cards, putting it in first place for biometrics.

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7) London: Fintech

Every city with a strong financial services culture now inevitably has a burgeoning fintech industry, too. Strong growth in everything from consumer-focused digital payments to advanced encryption technologies is driving investment everywhere from Johannesburg to Hong Kong to Toronto, all established players in fintech today. But Europe remains the global fintech stronghold – and in particular London, where the world’s largest fintech employer Worldpay is located and where several thousand start-ups are competing to become the next darlings of the financial services community. 

8) Barcelona: Transportation

Most urban transportation systems are showing their age. Designed and built in the last century for smaller and less mobile populations, metropolitan networks everywhere are struggling to deal with more passengers, worse traffic and inflexible payment systems. Upgrading such networks to meet the needs of modern hi-tech cities is expensive and time-consuming, but cities around the world are showing how modern approaches to moving people and goods benefit the growth and development of whole countries. Barcelona is arguably the most advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, thanks to a highly integrated approach that covers everything from optimising bus routes to creating smart rubbish-collection systems to intelligent parking spaces that alert drivers to vacant slots. 

9) Beijing: Education

US universities such as MIT and Stanford dominated the landscape for hi-tech graduates in the 20th century, but the growth of the Asian powerhouses has shifted the balance significantly. China produced 4.7m graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in 2016, according to the World Economic Forum, with 2.7m STEM graduates in India and just 568,000 in the US. As China’s biggest source of graduates, Beijing now seems certain to be providing the biggest pool of talent for the high-tech cities of the future.

10) San Francisco: Venture capital

Building the technology behind hi-tech cities is expensive and the industry as a whole is still highly dependent on venture capital (VC) to fund its growth and development. While not always a direct measure of the hi-tech nature of their home cities, it’s worth considering the availability of local venture capital as a driver of growth. London’s lead in fintech is closely related to the availability of funding – well over $1bn in 2017. Most major developed cities now have a growing VC presence, with some in Europe growing especially fast – Stockholm was the world’s second-fastest growing VC centre in 2015. But San Francisco, the large city most closely associated with Silicon Valley, remains comfortably at the head of the global pile, with an estimated $23bn invested in 2016. 

Compliments of Pirelli Tire North America – a member of the EACC in New York