Your GPS and live traffic updates
- 21 April, 2009 15:08
In-car GPS navigation units are becoming more popular as their price continues to fall. 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 calling.
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 relatively new 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 and expanded to Sydney and Brisbane in August 2008. In Sydney, SUNA’s coverage includes the major arterial road network and key motorways across the city. In Brisbane and south-east Queensland, most state controlled roads are covered, but the service will shortly be expanding to cover the Gold Coast.
With Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane drivers now able to use the service, SUNA’s coverage includes more than 75 per cent of Australia’s urban population.
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 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 200 traffic warnings about congestion and incidents every peak hour period. The current SUNA service transmits up to 600 traffic updates each day.
On what devices is SUNA available?
SUNA has partnered with a number of GPS manufacturers, including major brands such as TomTom, Mio, Navman, Garmin and Uniden. Not every GPS device from these companies is compatible with SUNA, but generally the newer models are. Look for the SUNA logo on the sales packaging to help aid your choice.
Some of GPS units include the required TMC (Traffic Message Channel) antenna and lifetime subscription in the sales package, while others require this to be purchased separately. For most GPS devices, the antenna is an external one that plugs into the unit, though some of the latest navigational units feature built-in antennas.
Keep in mind that many of the compatible models require the latest map updates to be purchased before you will be able to use the SUNA Traffic Channel. Some GPS manufacturers offer these map updates for free if your unit was purchased in a particular time frame; they usually incur a cost otherwise.
Below is a full list of current compatible models, including any required extra costs or additions:
- TomTom GO 930 (TMC antenna and subscription included with GO 930 Traffic, optional on non-traffic unit: $149.00)
- TomTom GO 730 (TMC antenna ans subscription included with GO 730 Traffic, optional on non-traffic unit: $149)
- TomTom ONE (4th Edition) (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- TomTom XL (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Mio Moov 370 (TMC antenna included)
- Mio Moov 360 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Mio Moov 300 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Navman S300T (TMC antenna included)
- Navman S200 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Navman S150 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Navman S100 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $149)
- Garmin nuvi 255 (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $129)
- Garmin nuvi 255W (TMC antenna and subscription optional: $129)
- Garmin nuvi 265 (TMC antenna and subscription included with nuvi 265T, optional on non-traffic unit: $129)
- Garmin nuvi 265W (TMC antenna and subscription included with nuvi 265WT, optional on non-traffic unit: $129)
- Uniden TRAX 436 (TMC antenna included but subscription optional: $149.95)
SUNA is also available as an integrated optional extra on various new Ford vehicles. When purchasing the satellite navigational system ($2290), the SUNA Traffic Channel is included on the FG Falcon, selected FG Falcon Utes and on the entire Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) FG model range.
For more information on compatible GPS units, including older devices see SUNA's list of compatible devices
How much does it cost?
There are no ongoing subscription costs for using the SUNA Traffic Channel. If you purchase a SUNA-compatible GPS device that includes the TMC antenna in the sales package, using the service is completely free as a lifetime subscription is part of the bundle.
If you already own a SUNA-compatible GPS device but you need to purchase a TMC antenna, a subscription to SUNA will be included when you buy the antenna. For example, Mio’s retail package for a TMC antenna ($149) includes a lifetime subscription to use the SUNA service and is compatible with Mio’s latest range.