Traditionally, traffic is monitored in one or more of the following ways:
- Induction loops in the road
- Strategically mounted cameras
- Traffic authorities in the field
- Other collaborative sources (in the case of Singapore, using taxi drivers to provide updates on traffic conditions)
The problem with these methods is that they are costly, labor-intensive and not scalable. TomTom recognized that to monitor traffic required them to think out of the box and in doing so, they discovered a much more cost effective way.
One of the most pervasive devices in our lives today is the mobile phone. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that nearly everyone has one. And this was exactly what TomTom did.
As you travel, your mobile phone signal is passed on from one base station to another. Using algorithms, TomTom can then determine what speed you are traveling at. In collaboration with telecommunication companies such as Vodafone, what TomTom has now millions of users with which they can monitor to get an idea of what the traffic situation in any given place (so long as there are mobile phone users of that particular telco) is like.
However, this technology has its limitations, because it is difficult to differentiate between signals. For instance, how do you tell if a particular signal is coming from someone who is walking by the side of the street as opposed to being in a car and stuck in slow traffic? How do you differentiate signals from a car or bus?
For this reason, TomTom introduced its Live Services. With Live services, users pay a subscription and have a data-enabled personal navigation device which can receive traffic updates as part of the HD Traffic service. At the same time, TomTom is also tracing them and keeping tabs on these subscribers and their travel speed. So for instance, when a particular subscriber is traveling much slower than what would be expected, TomTom can alert other users there’s a slowdown on the road this subscriber is traveling at and offer an alternative route. Once it gets more information about the slowdown, via traditional sources or otherwise, it can update its HD Traffic database with more information such as an accident or roadworks to let other TomTom Live subscribers know.
Live Services is therefore really a win-win situation. For subscribers, not only are they getting the latest updates, they are also contributing back to the community with their travel data. Furthermore, it’s a completely elegant solution that requires no input from users. For TomTom, what this means is that they can place more emphasis to data coming from their Live Services subscribers as opposed to the millions of unmarked signals coming from mobile phone users.
To get a firsthand feel of how HD Traffic works, the service is also available for free on their website.