Why is Interconnection Mission Critical on the Road to Smart Traffic?

Sami Holopainen

Individually, we would all benefit if we arrived at a destination smoothly without getting stuck in traffic congestion. Globally, companies and cities look for solutions to improve traffic flows to decrease transportation costs and environmental problems. However, making traffic smarter is a complex challenge involving heavy loads of data. What is essential to solve this issue?

According to the global INRIX traffic scorecard, an average driver in Helsinki spent 24 hours in traffic congestion in 2017. In global comparison, that figure pales at the side of cities such as London, where sitting in traffic jams wasted 74 hours per year.

Less than optimal traffic flows constrain economic growth, put a heavy burden on the environment and road infrastructure, and impair citizen’s quality of life. No wonder dozens of cities have declared that they strive to become smart cities where the one burning issue is how to solve for “smart traffic”. Everywhere, digital solutions play a major role in the development.

Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G mobile networks, and machine learning are driving smart traffic fast forward. Traffic technology raises massive interest around the world. Intensive research, testing and investments of new digital solutions is under way by companies, academic institutions, cities and governments.

For instance, one initiative for smarter and more secure traffic is active here in Finland: The Traffic Lab. It is a test lab open for new digital traffic solutions, and there’s even a 5G test network available. One aspect is quite astonishing: it provides a testing environment for autonomous vehicles – on normal roads in live traffic! Another unique aspect is that here manufacturers and developers can test whether their traffic technology survives arctic weather conditions.

Smart traffic is a bit hard to define in exact terms, and its meaning tends to depend on who is talking. Sometimes, smart traffic means mostly managing public transports, or just traffic lights, or city-wide traffic management performed by authorities, or autonomous vehicles.

Handling real-time traffic data requires a reliable backend

To clarify the discussion, let’s focus on something familiar: making GPS navigation smart. If our favorite route is heavily congested, or a traffic accident blocks the way, or there’s a road maintenance operation going on, we want the navigator to reroute us ASAP.

How is such situational awareness achieved, and what technology does it require?

An Equinix customer in Finland called V-Traffic knows the answers very well, and illustrates that making traffic smarter is a complex task. It is specialized in providing real-time traffic data to its customers.

The name of the company is hardly familiar, but you have quite probably used a navigation solution powered by its technology. V-Traffic is a trusted partner for more than 20 leading car brands in their onboard navigation systems. V-Traffic’s services are also used by radio and TV stations in their live traffic reporting. There’s even a free mobile app available.

V-Traffic collects, analyzes, refines, and processes data from a huge number of sources and distributes it to millions of end users. The company also receives a constant flow of detailed road weather data from local meteorological companies, traffic cameras and sensors.

Any glitches in the traffic information provided by V-Traffic would hurt the brand of its clients – that is why the ability to provide timely information is crucial for the company. Traffic information that comes even a few minutes too late may be useless.

The business challenges faced by V-Traffic demand extremely high reliability from the backend systems and the network. Low latency is also essential, since the information must be available instantly all the time all over the world.

Their whole main production platform is hosted by Equinix IBX data centers. Virtual servers, load balancing, and full redundancy create a dynamic data center to guarantee a smooth end-user experience.

To bring its technology closer to its end users, V-Traffic has leveraged an Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOA) strategy. IOA takes the fundamental delivery architecture of IT and turns it upside down, shifting from a siloed and centralized model to an interconnected and distributed one at the edge, where the physical and virtual worlds meet. The core principle is that interconnection shortens the physical distance between applications, data, clouds and people at the digital edge, resulting in reduced latency and optimized performance.

Digitalization of traffic brings massive benefits

V-Traffic showcases us in practical terms what digitalization of traffic requires, and how the evolution towards smarter traffic benefits us. Incredibly, an IEEE proposal from 2016 describes how GPS, mobile phones, and real-time traffic data may be utilized to inform drivers of congested roads and reduce travelling times. Exactly what V-Traffic already enables!

With smart traffic, we can enjoy from getting to our destination faster and with less stress. For any company doing deliveries, real-time data enhances route optimization, which in turn saves money directly and improves customer satisfaction.

Ultimately, powered by new rounds of digital innovation, traffic may become a well-balanced system, a digital organism of its own that is fully transparent and under control. Each vehicle will automatically communicate with every other vehicle, detect pedestrians and wild animals, never get stuck in a traffic jam or never crash, and reliably navigate the fastest way while minimizing the ecological footprint.

However, the amounts of data required for smart traffic will crash the roof and may create heavy digital traffic congestion. Additionally, data flows can bump into barriers between enterprises. To avoid such negative issues, new traffic technology should follow the model illustrated by V-Traffic.

Any company that develops solutions for smarter traffic needs a powerful data center backend. Direct interconnections, bypassing the public Internet, and minimal latencies across countries and continents make traffic data flow smoothly and reliably.

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