Your GPS and live traffic updates

Never get caught in traffic again, thanks to the SUNA Traffic Channel!

In-car GPS navigation units are proving more popular as their price continues to fall. Where a premium GPS unit with top-end features once retailed for close to $1000, newer models can be had for less than $500. These handy devices provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation across Australia (and often across the globe), meaning you’ll never have to reach for a street directory again.

As well as directing you to and from specific locations, various GPS units may also navigate you to points of interest (POIs), pinpoint your current location in the event of an emergency and synchronise with your mobile phone via Bluetooth connectivity to enable hands-free phone calls.

Although the software behind GPS technology continues to evolve, normal GPS maps don’t take into account traffic conditions when planning a route. To combat this, live traffic updates can inform you of current traffic conditions and recommend routes that bypass or avoid congestion on our roads. Live traffic services have been available across Europe and North America for quite some time, but are still a relatively new feature in Australia.

SUNA Traffic Channel

The SUNA Traffic Channel is the first traffic service to launch in Australia and currently the only of its kind. Developed by Intelematics Australia, SUNA broadcasts live traffic information directly to a compatible GPS navigation system. This enables users to be redirected around accidents or general traffic build-up while using their GPS device.

SUNA was first launched in Melbourne in 2007, expanded to Sydney and Brisbane in 2008 and now covers the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. In Sydney, SUNA’s coverage includes the major arterial road network and key motorways across the city (up to 3251km of roads). In Brisbane and the Gold Coast, SUNA covers a continuous footprint from the NSW border to the Sunshine Coast, while Adelaide, Perth and Canberra's major roads, freeways and tollways are all covered.

SUNA has no firm availability for further expansion, but says any further coverage will likely be implemented in late 2010 and may include Newcastle and Tasmania.

How does it work?

The SUNA Traffic Channel is essentially a radio channel that transmits traffic data to a compatible GPS device via an FM transmission — the same way you receive regular FM radio in the car. Armed with this information, your GPS is then able to suggest an alternative route to avoid potential logjams on the road.

The transmission technology behind SUNA isn’t new. The radio channel utilises the Radio Data System (RDS) standard to transmit the traffic information to GPS devices every three minutes. SUNA’s data is silently transmitted in a normal FM radio broadcast and will not interfere with your car radio.

Unfortunately, the data sent to your GPS by SUNA is encoded, so it can only be received by a SUNA-compatible device.

Where does SUNA’s traffic information come from?

SUNA relies heavily on the infrastructure already put in place by state traffic authorities. In Sydney, SUNA uses information obtained from the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), and it relies on data from VicRoads in Melbourne and Queensland Transport in Brisbane.

SUNA particularly focuses on SCATS (Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System) information. These are vehicle sensors embedded in the road at various traffic light intersections that provide data, particularly concerning traffic flow. SUNA also focuses on data from CCTV systems: camera monitoring systems that watch over major roads.

SUNA combines all of this data with information from its own vehicles, which are deployed to known congested areas. Together, all of this information is collated at SUNA’s headquarters and personalised for individual GPS users based on their current location.

What type of messages will I receive?

Messages will vary depending on what GPS device you own, but SUNA provides detailed warnings about incidents and traffic congestions across their coverage areas. Generally the warnings are a combination of warning icons on your map screen and text, though they can also include spoken messages relating to the incident.

Most reported traffic incidents through SUNA will include a short description of the incident, its location, the average speed you can expect through the area, and the length of delay expected. Your GPS unit will then be able to present a list of detour options to avoid the area if you wish.

In Sydney alone there are typically more than 300 traffic warnings about congestion and incidents every peak hour period. The current SUNA service transmits up to 600 traffic updates each day.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

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