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TomTom to track phones for real-time traffic info

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Vodafone and route-planning specialist TomTom will next year deploy what they believe will be the world's first commercial traffic data system based on tracking thousands of mobile phones in real-time, the pair said today.

The system uses standard signalling data sent back and forth between mobile phones and cellular base-stations to pin-point a handset's location and speed, which are effectively the position and speed of the vehicle it's inside. Build a composite of all the data received this way from handsets located along a road and you have an indication of how congested - or not - that road is.

TomTom reckons that information can be sold back to motorists and fleet managers as more accurate traffic data than they're currently getting from the many services already sending out congestion alerts. The big difference, claimed TomTom, is that its offering provides warnings in real-time not when someone phones a traffic hazard in.

So as soon as, say, the A5 starts to jam, TomTom operatives can begin feeding that information through to subscribers' GPS-based route-planning kit to start taking drivers down alternative routes. And get them back on the A5 again as soon as the problem has cleared.

With every road covered, calculating an alternative route can be performed more smartly, TomTom said. That said, if there aren't any Vodafone customers driving down a given stretch of road, the data will be misleading. Just pray you don't get caught among motorists on their way to an O2 convention.

Vodafone likes the TomTom system because it will mean much more data pinging its way back and forth across its GPRS network as more data is requested by and sent out to drivers.

TomTom stressed the data is collected anonymously, but then it's doing nothing the phone networks haven't been able to do for ages.

TomTom has been trialling the technology in the Netherlands, which will also play host to the commercial roll-out in H2 2007. It's currently looking to partner with other networks in other countries to expand the service's reach outside of Holland. ®

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