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My experience of using technology in Russian capital Moscow

WiFi everywhere!

by Ivan Mehta

When you are descending to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International airport, just before the plane lands, you can see the woods. Rows and columns of tall trees, the area looks like where Wolverine from X-men would be living or hiding during his hiatus. The city was still hungover from the recently finished FIFA World Cup. I was visiting the city to attend the Moscow government's smart city conference. I actually took some extra steps to test some of the smart things it might have to offer. I took no cash with me. Although I took an NFC enabled Forex card. I activated no special plans for calls as I wanted to rely on the city's Internet connectivity and WiFi reach. My current plan allowed me to receive free SMSes but other than that everything cost a lot. I stayed in the city for four days and here is what I found out about the technology in the Moscow city.
Connectivity
As soon as I entered the airport complex, I was able to connect to a free WiFi network through an OTP (One Time Password). The city has WiFi almost everywhere. Every cafe, hotel and restaurant has its own network. A lot of them let you connect without an OTP  by just agreeing to the terms. There were a few hotspots which I wasn't able to connect to, as they asked for a Russian mobile number only.
 moscow1
While I was in cabs or buses, I wasn't able to connect to any of the WiFi hotspots which is acceptable. Surprisingly, I was able to connect to the Internet in the underground metro. I was able to stream songs and videos without any hassle. As per the government, Moscow is the first city to install screens in metros to live stream matches of the world cup. It also claims that 100 percent of the public transport is WiFi enabled and the user doesn't need to reauthenticate while switching the mode of transport. Additionally, the authorities say that there are 2,500 WiFi points in Moscow's streets, parks and pedestrian areas.
Interestingly Delhi government had promised free WiFi hotspots during the last election but as latest reports suggest, the project might kick off next year.
Payments
After the demonetisation, the digital economy in India has been pushed a lot. If you live in a metro city like Delhi most of the shops accept money through digital wallets such as Paytm. I used a contactless Visa forex card. Luckily, I visited cafes and shops which accepted payment through cards. There was one small ice cream shop and a souvenir shop which insisted for cash and I had to skip them.
According to a report, payments in Russia are still cash dominant, but digital transactions are growing. Digital wallets are still not a huge part of the chunk yet. But contactless payment cards are getting increasingly popular. I used one of those for payment on my trip.
Transportation
On the second day of my visit, I had the chance of experiencing the famed Moscow metro. The stations are pieces of art. Each one of them was clean and had some painting or sculpture in it. You can ride with a digital transportation card similar to ones used in Mumbai or Delhi metro. The recharge method is the same. During the world cup, the Russian government had allowed the fans to take public transport for free provided they had the Fan ID given by FIFA.
moscow1
I had installed Gett taxi app but wasn't able to register somehow through the OTP. And the Uber app wasn't able to register my card even if I got multiple SMSes confirming the card authentication. But I was told both of these apps are pretty reliable. The city authorities said that even called Yellow City taxis are now really convenient and the average wait time is 5-7 minutes.
The city administration has invested significantly to improve traffic situations as well. Moscow now has more than 2000 traffic lights, 3500 traffic detectors and more than 2000 CCTV cameras to monitor the traffic situations. A smart city study by Mckinsey & Company suggests that the movement through the city is now 13 per cent faster as compared to 2010 despite the addition of many vehicles.
Other services
There are plenty of other services in the city which I wasn't able to use. There were experimental 5G zones deployed during the world cup where the fans could watch the game live on Virtual Reality headsets with options to switch between multiple cameras.
Moscow also has three citizen-focused portals which allow them to vote on the new projects, report on issues and propose their own ideas as well. It even ranks very high on the study of the citizens using applications for the improve the city. However, the portals are not free from the controversies.
In a past few years, Moscow has become a formidable presence in top smart cities amongst the world and the services available there are proof of that. However, to be more inclusive and invite more tourist city needs to better language support for foreigners. Due to the world cup, there has been some improvement in places like Metros but there are many miles to go.

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