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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 07:03 GMT
Handsets help to unstick jams
Traffic jam, BBC
Mobile users going nowhere can help manage jams
Mobile phones could soon be helping Finland manage heavy traffic on its roads.

The nation's transport ministry is running pilot projects to find out if signals sent from drivers' mobile phones to base stations can be used to time trips along popular routes.

The signals will help the transport ministry work out where traffic jams are building up and warn drivers of impending delays.

Using mobile phones could be a cheap way of gathering useful information because the phone network already covers the entire country.

Mobile monitor

Everyone knows that the Finns are mad about mobile phones, about 80% of the country's inhabitants have a handset.

Now Finnra, the Finnish Road Administration, is developing a way to use the mobile phones of drivers to spot traffic congestion.

Every handset regularly swaps information with the base stations that make up a mobile network.

This ensures that the mobile network knows where a handset is so any calls or text messages can be are routed to it and to help manage voice traffic on the mobile network.

Car number plate, PA
Bad weather makes reading registration numbers tricky
A mobile phone in a car, even if its owner is not using it, will check in with a series of base stations during the course of a trip.

By monitoring which phones talk to which base station and how long it takes the phone to reach the catchment area of a new base station it is possible to work out how long a trip is taking.

Longer travel times means traffic is getting heavier.

By monitoring only 5% of mobile phones, Finnra believes it will be able to update information about changing traffic patterns every 30 seconds. Finnra is working with Finnish mobile phone firm Radiolinja on the trials.

In November 2002 trials were carried out along the stretch of Finland's Highway 4 that runs between Heinola and Lahti as well as on the ring road around the capital Helsinki.

According to a report prepared for Finnra the trials showed that mobile phone signals are a very reliable source of information about traffic on Finland's roads.

Information gathered can be piped to roadside signs or fed to radio stations to warn drivers about conditions on the roads.

The report said that phones are more reliable than the number plate recognition systems currently used to measure travel times because recognition systems perform badly when plates are obscured by bad weather.

Now Finnra is considering spending up to 7m euro to extend the trial system to all of Finland's roads.

Using the mobile network would be much cheaper, and reliable, than extending number plate reading systems across the country.

The organisation is avoiding infringing the privacy of drivers by discarding data once it is used and by using codes that camouflage exactly which mobile phone is being used to time trips.

See also:

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17 Dec 02 | Politics
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