Rand McNally, TCS Bring Traffic Warnings to Cell Phones

The software, which users download from their phone provider, shows traffic congestion on maps on the phone's screen "in fairly real time." Sprint, Cingular and others have already signed on.

Rand McNally has started delivering real-time traffic information to some wireless phone users, the company announced Wednesday.

Rand McNally & Co. is working with Annapolis, Md.-based TCS (TeleCommunication Systems Inc.) to deliver the data.

Initially, the traffic information will be made available to Java- and BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless)-equipped smart phones from Sprint Corp., Cingular Wireless LLC and Alltell Corp. While its not mentioned in the announcement, Verizon has already started providing the service.

The software, which users download from their phone provider, shows traffic congestion on maps on the phones screen, said TCS vice president Tim Lorello. The maps can scroll as necessary to show new areas during a commute.

These applications "take advantage of traffic and location technology that we have," he said. TCS receives traffic-flow information from sensors buried in roads throughout the United States, Lorello added.

The sensor information is received from a variety of sources and then aggregated by TrafficCast Inc. and sent to TCS. Likewise, Tele Atlas provides incident information—such as traffic accidents, sporting events or road construction—to TCS.

The technology requires users to enter the ZIP codes for areas that interest them into the software. But in the near future, users will be able to use location information from the GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in their phones to look at traffic near them. Lorello said a similar capability for this technology is also available for phones without GPS receivers.

"This is pushed in fairly real time to a users mobile phone," said Rand McNally vice president Alan Yefsky. The software includes what the company calls a "Commute Wizard," he said. "This allows someone who drives a regular route to enter their starting and ending point by ZIP code."

According to Yefsky, the new technology should provide traffic information to users about 10 minutes sooner than radio traffic reports. He added that Rand McNally has plans to introduce the technology to commercial users such as truck drivers and delivery companies. "This is just a first step," Yefsky said.

And in fact, the companies involved are already thinking about the next step. Lorello said TCS is investigating a move for the technology into the United Kingdom, where traffic information aggregators are already in business, and then perhaps into the rest of Europe. While Yefsky didnt indicate that Rand McNally has an interest in that area, it would fit into other TCS operations in Europe.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about Yahoo building traffic updates into its maps.

This is, of course, just the beginning. "The mobile device will be the next major platform for maps," Yefsky said. Charles Golvin, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said he thinks the whole field of mobile phone applications is about to take off.

"We are in a transitional period with regards to services to mobile phones and the way consumers think of them," Golvin said. "Something more than 10 percent of mobile users use their carriers data service. That means were entering the adoption phase.

"The growth phase will be the most rapid as this enters the mainstream," he said. Most users who take advantage of the data service today are downloading ring tones or games, but Golvin said he thinks this will change.

While location-based services, including the type of service that the Rand McNally traffic information will become shortly, arent the hottest thing in the wireless world, they should still become much more widespread, he said. He attributed this largely to government requirements for enhanced 911 that mandate the ability to determine a phones location.

Still, Colvin said he thinks this type of service has a strong future because users are beginning to realize that their wireless device is more than just a phone without wires. Of course, other companies have realized this, too, and as a result there is already some competition in the traffic-information universe, notably from XM Satellite Radio, which is now sending equivalent information to navigation devices.

The Rand McNally Traffic software is available by subscription now. The expected price is $3.99 per month.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...