The marketing battle between traffic service providers will continue into 2010. The good news is that 2009 firmly established the value of traffic data. The turning point came with the introduction of multiple mobile phone navigation solutions, most of which arrived through the aegis of the application store model pioneered by Apple. But new, unusual and creative solutions will arrive in 2010 and change the existing balance of power.
Users of these new navigation systems and the developers quickly discovered that reliable traffic information was the real killer app that mobile users were seeking. In the process they discovered that to deliver reliable travel times they needed a wide variety of traffic data including real-time, historical, predictive and incident data. Unfortunately, one of the key sources of traffic data – radio and television stations with cameras, ‘copters and spotters to report incident information – have suffered in the current downturn. In fact, there are anecdotal indications that radio stations are dropping traffic reporting. A model for delivering nationwide incident data that was previously fueled by advertising and sponsorships is becoming frayed at the edges as TV and radio advertising suffer.
Traffic.com, ClearChannel and Westwood One/SmartRoute, among others, are all seeking new funding, new business models or new owners in a bid to preserve or enhance their market positions. In the meantime, Google has barged into the market with its own traffic data raising questions over the viability of incumbent players. Google’s entry into any market raises these questions, although the reliability or robustness of Google’s traffic solution has yet to be proven. Inrix, on the other hand, has not based its model on sponsorships or advertising and, as a result, has for the most part avoided the negative impact of the downturn in advertising activity. But with Google getting into the traffic data aggregation and algorithm business, no traffic data supplier is safe including Microsoft's ClearFlow.
Of more immediate concern than Google entering the traffic market is the changing role of mobile-phone based navigation. Google is a player here as well, but it has more company in the form of Networks in Motion and TeleNav and their carrier partners. (TelMap's efforts in Europe have been hindered by the fragmented nature of the market and the negative impact of roaming charges.) While companies such as Cellint, AirSage, and IntelliOne have been seeking to integrate cell-tower triangulation data for probe traffic inputs, expect the carriers to introduce GPS-based probe data in the new year – representing a key added-value advantage. GPS-based probe data derived from mobile phone handsets will not replace triangulated data, which will always represent the greatest volume of “anonymized” location data, but the GPS data is likely to be more timely and accurate, critical to traffic reporting and analysis. The GPS-based data will likely require opt in participation vs. the triangulated data which to date has been applied involuntarily.
Still, good probe data is almost worthless without incident data. Without incident data the system is unable to interpret slowed or stopped traffic – ie. is it weather, volume, construction, a fallen tree limb, an uphill grade? The battle for reliable traffic data will come down to good incident data. This means the industry will see vastly enhanced probe data in 2010, but the gap between reliable flow and reliable incident data will suddenly become much clearer.
Through all the enhancements to traffic reporting consumers have been expressing their interest in better and more timely information and, in particular, more real-time incident information. As an example, RDS-TMC is notorious for the 5-10-15-minute delays in incident reporting, sometimes worse. Drivers want to know what is happening in real time.
In 2010, drivers will begin to get real-time information. Whether that information comes from Twitter, TrafficTalk, Aha Mobile, Waze, TrafficLand or some other solution is not clear. What is clear is that drivers want to know BOTH what has happened in the past and what is happening now. But what they really want to know is what is happening right in front of them.
The solutions will come in 2010 from three key sources: mobile-phone-based crowd-sourced info, traffic cameras and, perhaps, vehicle-mounted cameras. The challenges to delivery include the creation of traffic reporting “crowds,” something TrafficTalk, Waze and Aha Mobile are working on; and camera input interpretation and delivery platforms. Developments in 2009 clearly indicated that drivers must spend less time looking away from the road to navigation interfaces. More information must be conveyed via voice.
Traffic information suppliers will still be looking at a combination of subscription-based and sponsored traffic information. Consumers have clearly indicated a willingness to pay for traffic data, both in Strategy Analytics surveys and in the combined 10 million subscribers to Networks in Motion, TeleNav and XM/Sirius traffic information.
The industry will see some outlandish innovations ranging from delivering traffic camera info to mobile phones to – in 2-3 years – aftermarket in-vehicle cameras to capture traffic incidents. Two things are clear. Better incident data is required and solutions are in the pipeline.