Optus trial brings Traffic Intelligence to road users

Data from mobile phones to power real time traffic information

Optus has partnered with Sydney-based traffic information service provider, Traffic Intelligence, to trial a technology that is expected to provide high quality traffic information to road users.

The service is based on Cellular Floating Vehicle Data technology (CFVD) developed by Traffic Intelligence's U.K. partner, Itis Holdings, whereby data generated within a cellular phone network is aggregated and analysed to generate real time traffic and travel time data.

Cellular data is collected from what is called "handover events", which occur when individual mobile phone users are transferred from one cellular station to another as they move across geographical distances. Through monitoring and analysing patterns in these events, CFVD technology is able to identify movement down a road and calculate traffic time.

The service is expected to be the first of its kind in Australia, according to David Quayle, managing director of Traffic Intelligence. Pending the successful completion of the trials, Quayle expects the service to be available by the third quarter of 2007.

"What we're hoping to achieve [with the trial] is to prove that the combination of the Nokia technology, which is the platform technology, and the Itis analysis and aggregation technology, works," he said. "When you combine the two, it gives you the level of quality of data that Itis Holdings already gets overseas."

Itis Holdings has already deployed at least six similar projects overseas, Quayle said, but the Australian service will have to employ a slightly different method of accessing data anonymously over Optus' mobile phone network. While the overseas services used mobile phone network probes to generate data, Traffic Intelligence and Optus are trialling a Nokia cellular mediation product that will provide the same data at a lower cost.

"To put a probe into a mobile phone network is a fairly expensive exercise if the probes are not already there," Quayle explained. "On the Optus network, as with many other networks around the world, the Nokia product can replicate the data that we expect to get from the probes, so really what we're trying to do is utilise the existing infrastructure without incurring too high a cost."

Quayle called cellular traffic data the "gold standard" of traffic information for its accuracy. "It's an extremely good method of generating traffic information in a country like Australia," he said, "where you've got a fairly small population and a large geography, and not much physical infrastructure on the roads to counter vehicles."

If and when the service becomes available, it will be up to Optus and Traffic Intelligence to decide whether information will be distributed via SMS, Web-based applications, IVR (automated call centres), navigation devices, road authorities, or a combination of media.

As Traffic Information's sole mobile network partner, Optus will also be deciding if they would allow the service to be provided to other mobile networks, Quayle said.

"We chose to go with Optus because Optus was the most amenable of the three mobile networks in Australia that we've been talking to, [and] we really see no reason to [expand our partner base]," he said. "Because when we roll out we will be using multiple data sources - cellular, GPS and some road authority data when we can get hold of it - we won't need a second mobile phone network."

Optus was unavailable for comment.

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