Real, Real-Time Traffic InformationTuesday, November 06, 2007
I need to begin this Commentary with a couple of disclaimers. The company I am writing about today is a client and we have been working with this company for several years. We have elected to take some of our fees as stock in the company, a practice we shy away from. Every so often a company comes along with a technology we really believe will change wireless for the better and we take the chance. I dont normally write about clients in my Commentary and thought long and hard before sitting down to write this article. My decision to go ahead with it is based on my desire to share with my readers my excitement about what IntelliOne is doing.
Over the past several months, I have alluded to a company that has the best live traffic reporting methodology I have seen. The company is IntelliOne, located in Atlanta, and the reason I am able to talk about it now is that it has signed its first major network operator, Rogers Wireless in Canada. IntelliOne is in the process of rolling out its system Canada-wide beginning in Toronto this year and expects to have most of Canada turned up by mid 2008. Meanwhile, it is in pilots with a number of other networks around the world and I believe its system will become the de facto standard for measuring and reporting live traffic information.
What is different about IntelliOne? Aside from its technology advantages, which Ill talk about next, these folks understand the difference between navigation and traffic advice. I use the navigation system in my car mostly to help me drive to a place I have never been. My new car offers routing using XM traffic and it works well on some freeways, but how many of us live or work right off a freeway ramp? I expect a traffic advice system, on the other hand, to be an always-on service that knows where I am, knows where I am going and helps me get there around traffic, whether I am on a freeway or a downtown street. Most important, the traffic service must be available to me when, where and how I want it―at home in the morning over my IPTV connection, at the office on my desktop browser or on my mobile phone, regardless of what car I happen to be in.
To make this personal traffic advice actually work, IntelliOne has developed a platform that operates partially within wireless networks. Its in-network positioning system does not require software or GPS in any of the handsets, and because the system is layered inside the network, it can instantly report traffic on every road covered by the network―not only on Interstate highways, but on every road. Next, its solution does not put an additional load on a network since it uses bits of data normally sent by phones on the network and, as the expression goes, are dumped on the floor.
Here is how it works. Once the servers are installed in the network, they monitor every phone in the network and within seconds, they locate the phones, recognize whether they are stationary or moving and, based on the movement, if people are walking or traveling on a road. IntelliOne then focuses on the data from the phones traveling on the roadways to measure traffic speeds. For traffic reporting, it receives data from the network operator that is stripped of the ESN (Electronic Serial Number), phone number and any other personally identifiable information, thus an individual phone cannot be traced back to a user. It doesnt care about a single phone for measuring traffic; it cares about lots of phones, all moving and all on roadways.
The system locates all of these moving phones, places them on the roads they are traveling and measures the actual speeds of the phones movements. It updates the speeds and directions of travel for hundreds of thousands of phones at the same time and this information is made available and updated every thirty seconds. The system is scalable because the servers reside in a networks switching center and the data is then fed to a central point for distribution.
IntelliOne has been working on improving this system over the past two years and is now at a point where the trials run in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the world have proven its claims of accuracy and speed measurements. Rogers is the first network operator in the world to sign a countrywide agreement with IntelliOne, but I expect that we will be hearing a lot more as networks in other parts of the world come onboard.
Obviously, the data can be integrated with navigation systems that provide turn-by-turn directions. The difference between the IntelliOne system and others in the market is that IntelliOne is not only reporting speeds on major highways, but also on all secondary highways and surface streets. For this reason, if the system reroutes you because of an accident on your normal route to work, it will be able to find the best alternative based on real-time traffic flow on all routes.
IntelliOne does have the ability to locate a single phone if the customer opts in for a specific purpose such as friend finder or other such programs, but traffic speed gathering is done anonymously. The ability for IntelliOne to provide not only full speed data but also data tailored to individuals gives its network operator partners a significant advantage.
IntelliOne does not plan to be in the applications business and is providing APIs for others to build applications that use the positioning and traffic measurement platform and data it provides. It has built a few applications to speed up market adoption and to demonstrate the power of its system. IntelliOnes TrafficAid service was built around a three-screen delivery strategy and is in beta for Web and BlackBerry devices. I believe support for Windows Mobile and Symbian devices is in the works, and the company recently announced its new R&D center in Ireland working on TrafficAid for IPTV. I wouldnt be surprised if we heard something soon on that front.
I saw a few proof-of-concept applications from IntelliOne on the iPhone. The first one has a customer setting up a route to work and back for the next day, then adding stops along the way―a stop at the dry cleaners, another for a Starbucks coffee, another for cash from an ATM and picking up the kids from school. The system computes the various stops and recommends the best order in which to accomplish these tasks, and if traffic changes during the day, the stops are reordered automatically. This is also a perfect application for any number of pick-up and delivery services as well as repair service vehicles. My favorite application uses the following scenario: Four of us want to meet at a Starbucks for coffee and the map displays each of our locations and then all of the Starbucks around us. The system then selects the Starbucks with the least travel time involved for all four of us and gives us each our own driving directions.
Once this system is implemented, you can do a lot with it. Think about being able to go to MapQuest and ask for turn-by-turn directions. Instead of the usual travel time based on the speed limits of the roads, you can enter in a time of day and see the average travel time based on the history of the roads at that time of day. Next is an idea I have been talking about for a long time. I have an appointment across town this afternoon. I enter it into my calendar and ask for a route calculation and driving time. The system then puts a must leave by notice on my calendar. It continues to monitor the route and if there is an accident or heavier traffic than usual, it will warn me that I need to leave a few minutes earlier or that my route has been changed because of the incident.
There are a number of traffic solutions already on the market. Some use predictive formulas based on past history, some use sensors embedded in some but not all of the Interstates and some use a combination of information pooled from a variety of sources and sent to a central point for distribution. We all know that many of these traffic reports are stale by the time we get them, or we have to listen very closely to radio announcers who only deliver information on our route once in a while because they are covering a wide area and cannot report on every road segment at each traffic update.
The IntelliOne solution sounded too good to be true when I was first introduced to it. I listened and asked many questions, all of which were answered to my satisfaction, and I was given access to a Website while a live test in a major city was being conducted. I could see the congestion growing on the Interstates that crossed through the city in real time and actual travel times between exits were available at the click of a button, as was traffic on alternate routes. I spent a lot of time on this site reviewing and digesting what I saw. IntelliOne then held an event in the same city and invited a number of companies to come and test drive the system. During these tests, a TV station in the city was reporting that traffic was clear on a certain stretch of highway that was, in fact, congested. The traffic reporter was given access to the site and verified that the data was correct and much more up-to-date than what he had been given.
The bottom line here is that the results of these tests proved to me conclusively that IntelliOnes technology and methodology trumps anything else available today. Having access to live traffic information as it happens, not only on major highways but on all streets in the area, is a real plus. Further, that the solution uses information already available on the networks with no impact on network performance is a great plus.
Yes, IntelliOne is a client and I am paid to help the people of this company with contacts and introductions to the right people at the right networks, but they are the ones who convince those they meet with that their technology is real, the business model is straightforward and the amount of work the network operator has to put into it is minimal.
I expect the Rogers rollout will be a showcase for what IntelliOne can do and I believe we will have this service available in the United States in short order. For me, it wont be soon enough! Great job, IntelliOne.
Andrew M. Seybold