Imagine a scenario where you are able to obtain real time traffic information from your mobile operators (on your mobile device) for various travel routes, as a service. This would no doubt save you time, enable you to decide whether to work from home or step out and prevent you from being stuck in traffic.
A common sight that meets the eye in Lagos is the proliferation of cell towers within the city. This is obviously an attempt by mobile operators to achieve a universal wide coverage within the city. Infact, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) recently disclosed that the country has achieved a 90 percent coverage in terms of 2G (Global System for Mobile communication (GSM)).
Can we therefore put to good use the data being gathered from these cell towers, scattered at various locations within the country? The answer is in the affirmative.
Data from cell phone towers could be used for various applications e.g. monitoring of traffic congestion on Lagos roads. Traffic monitoring can be achieved by understanding how mobile phones communicate with cell phone towers.
Usually, when a phone is either in use or not (sleep state), the phone constantly transmits or receives radio signals from cell towers (antennas). For example, if a cell phone tower, say tower A, is located on Ikeja road, all users close to Ikeja road would communicate via tower A. This means that, using tower A’s data, one can easily predict that there is a large/fewer number of road users on Ikeja road, at a particular point in time.
Also, the road user would typically be connected to the closest tower (tower with the least distance from the user) and this implies that on a congested road, say Ikeja road, all road users’ phones would be communicating with tower A, assume tower A is the closest tower on Ikeja road.
Now, when users move at high speeds, which occurs when there is no traffic, the closest cell phone tower (tower A) hands over to the next closest tower to the user (say tower B); whereas, when users are stationary for a long time, hand over does not occur, i.e. their phones would continuously communicate with Tower A.
In essence, by observing the data of road users (anonymised, in order to obey data privacy laws) communicating with various towers and specifically monitoring the rate of handovers between towers located along a specific road and the volume of data handled by the cell tower located on the road, all within certain time frames, one can easily predict whether there is traffic on a certain road or not.
With the advent of 5G which would involve a densification of antennas within traffic hotspots, indoor areas, public areas etc., the accuracy of tower data obtained to predict real time traffic update would significantly increase.
Of course, this idea may require testing, modifications, some clever design from MNOs to perhaps aggregate such data, where it could easily be mined/analysed, and an output where such information can be communicated to road users, at a specific charge.
If implemented, this service would help road users avoid traffic hotspots, take alternative routes and assist MNOs in generating additional revenue.