Building the city of tomorrow

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Centios President and CEO Hung Kwon Song talks about his company’s vision of building smart and green cities. PHOTO BY RUY MARTINEZ

Centios President and CEO Hung Kwon Song talks about his company’s vision of building smart and green cities. PHOTO BY RUY MARTINEZ

“ITS all about the smart and green life,” says Hung Kwon Song, when asked to describe his company Centios in a nutshell. The Korean CEO, dapper in a suit and quietly sipping his coffee in a plush hotel lobby seemed unperturbed by the fact that The Manila Times is interviewing him barely a few hours before his flight back to Korea. It was after all two days before Valentine’s Day when we did the interview and he had a date to keep with his wife. With an assuring smile, he tells us we have enough time, even as he gamely posed for the cameras. He certainly has a lot to smile about. His company Centios has been chosen to be part of the developers tasked to build the sprawling 204 hectares of Aseana City along Roxas Boulevard, by the majestic coastline of the Manila Bay. Centios will provide the information and communications technology (ICT) backbone, which will transform the whole development into a smart city with state-of-the-art technology-enhanced services to both locators and residents very soon.

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Centios is a new company formed three years ago and is a partnership between the No. 1 telecommunications company in South Korea, the Korea Telecom (KT) and the American technology company Cisco. Song said that both companies have the same vision of building smart and green cities which they foresee as the city of tomorrow, but is starting to happen today. Song said that Korea had been very successful in their pilot smart cities and are now rapidly expanding to build more. They hope to replicate the same successes in Korea, by helping other countries build their own smart spaces too. In particular, Song said that he is quite happy with their Aseana City project, which happens to be their first project in the Philippines, because he said, “Aseana has the same similar experience as Korea did in reclaiming the land and transforming it into a smart city.” In particular, he cited Songdo City as one of their models.

According to Song, they are all set to start building by the middle of 2014 beginning with the public safety and security services (PSS) which will make use of enhanced CCTV devices. At the same time, they will work together for a smarter and cohesive public service transport system within the development, as well as the last phase which is to work together with the locators when they build in order to transform their edifices into smart buildings. Song promised a smart city unlike anyone had ever seen in the Philippines, and their company is very excited at this prospect, because they foresee that this will be the template that other developers will want to build on in the future.

Song admits, however, that unlike Korea, the Philippines does pose some unique challenges that might hinder making this smart city into a reality at a much faster rate. In particular, he mentioned energy as one of the major challenges. “Unfortunately, Philippines is four times more expensive than Korea in terms of electricity pricing. Its way too high.” But he offers a solution for this, saying “its a good opportunity for us and the Filipinos to work on energy management. If you can find out where your energy is spent, and where your energy gets lost, then you can do much better in energy management.” One of the things he notices is the “energy misuse.” That’s actually another industry where our company can focus on he says, how they can help building developers and building owners, the local government units and even government as a whole to save more energy, use it more efficiently and effectively through energy management solutions.

Another factor in building successful smart cities, he says, would be determined by how fast and dependable the broadband networks of the country would be, noting that Korea itself has about 90-percent broadband penetration across the country and delivers the fastest broadband in the world.

Presently, Centios is also working on other projects besides the Philippines and Korea. They are setting their sights on getting similar projects in middle eastern countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well.

Understandably, this entails that Song is constantly on the road, meeting clients and checking on their project developments, wherever that maybe. Its really no big deal he said, as he’s used to this kind of work. “I used to work as VP [vice president]for global marketing for Samsung Electronics for 12 years where I was the telecommunications network systems guy which requires me to promote the latest Samsung technologies, so I traveled all over the world.” He describes himself as a “telecoms guy,” mentioning that he worked and lived in the United States for 20 years for various IT and telecom companies.

Looking forward, Song said that his goal is to see Centios earnings grow to about $2 billion in revenues by 2020. He pointed out that currently there are not a lot of players in the industry they are in, and although he considered his company a “David compared to IBM’s Goliath” as long as they are nimble, there is much room for growth.

Despite a hectic schedule, Song said that he tries to keep his weekends personal. “On Saturdays that I am in Seoul, I like to go hiking with my wife in the mountains and take long walks in scenic places. On Sundays, we devote our time to church and do volunteer work.” Song said that he also supports a nonprofit organization called Messenger International that incidentally helps Filipino kids through scholarships. Asked whether he has other passions he wants to pursue, he said that maybe when he retires he will play the saxophone again and pursue painting using pen as his medium. He also wants to travel some more, with enough time to see the sights and enjoy. But for the moment, he looks forward to going back home, buying the traditional chocolates and flowers for his wife, although he pointed out that in Korea, it is the ladies who give chocolates and flowers to their men. One thing is sure, there will be lots of flowers and chocolates in their household to last longer than Valentine’s Day. Now that’s one more reason for him to smile about.

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