Traffic data: time to tap into its full potential

Editor's note: Today we feature a post by Sander Maas, Global Offering Lead for Transport at Ericsson, who shares his expertise on connected urban transport. Every minute of the day, a huge volume of data is generated by road equipment, vehicles, and travelers. So isn’t it strange, in this day and age, that we still run into traffic jams, even though an accident might have happened hours ago? Isn’t it strange that we stare at the red light for minutes, waiting for it to turn green, or that there is still no way of knowing exactly when the things we’ve ordered will be delivered to our home?

Traffic data: time to tap into its full potential

Most of that traffic and transport data is available – somewhere. In the above examples, it's available within the traffic or police department, in the traffic light itself, or in the daily schedule of the delivery van, respectively.

Not only do we as consumers depend on this traffic and transport data, but professional organizations do too. For instance, city governments need it to manage traffic flow and to keep buses on schedule, while distribution companies need it to deliver goods on time.

So why are these examples still commonplace? Because of the simple fact that data is generated first and foremost to realize its primary goal: for example, to detect incidents, to control an intersection or to optimize the delivery van's route. When intended for other uses, this data stays hidden for often valid reasons, such as costs, technical barriers, confidentiality and perhaps privacy concerns.

Creating new value

However, as digitization takes hold, the status quo is slowly changing. For example, mobility service providers such as Google, TomTom, INRIX, HERE and Uber have taken on the massive job of getting and combining relevant traffic and travel data, and creating new services and even entire new industries.

Nevertheless, much of the relevant data stays hidden, or "untapped" if you will, in roadside systems and vehicles. And without some insights into its potential for the development of new products and services, it stays there, unavailable for further usage in existing systems or for the deployment of new products and services.

A great example of ambition in this area is the Talking Traffic program in the Netherlands. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment recognizes the significant potential of this hidden traffic data. For example, 25 percent of all traffic light data is being made available in real time. Service providers are using it to roll out new offerings such as priority for emergency vehicles, speed advice to truck drivers, and information for car drivers on the remaining waiting time they have to spend at the red light. By opening up access to these "hidden gems", the government has kick-started a whole ecosystem.

Cloud-based OTT solutions are just the beginning

As Ericsson, we are responsible – with our partners Siemens and Simacan – for the cloud-based services of the Talking Traffic program. Our joint cloud solution enriches the traffic data and makes it available in real time and at large scale.

This is an example of what we in the telecommunications industry call an over-the-top (OTT) solution. In other words, there are no specific requirements on the (wired and mobile) telecom networks; these networks are used as is to access cloud servers via the internet.

Looking ahead a bit, I feel this is just the start of something bigger. There is no question that digitalization will continue to transform all sectors within the economy, and assuming that this is the case, there are exciting developments ahead.

The telecom sector can play a pivotal role in making this happen and really unleashing that value – not just in terms of "more data and more speed" in the networks, but also with the developments now becoming available that may benefit the traffic and transport industries in particular. These include Vehicle-to-Everything services based on LTE (LTE V2X), network slicing, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), and several others.

If you would like to hear more about these topics, please join me in Montreal at ITS World Congress 2017. On Monday, October 30, I will moderate the session 5G Automotive Alliance (5GAA): on the road towards LTE-V2X. I hope to see you there.


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