LA County untangles traffic snarls with M2M
Municipal telematics networks embracing other applications besides smart grids and surveillance
See Connected Planet’s four-part series on the emerging M2M market for more information
In the world of M2M, not every machine-to-machine link necessarily involves a service provider connection. Local governments are starting to use unlicensed frequencies to create wireless telematics networks, giving them control of their own infrastructure as well as ready access to broadband speeds.
Los Angeles County has built one such network to manage traffic in its congested streets. Using Proxim Wireless gear and the 5.8 GHz unlicensed frequencies, LA County has linked 1000 intersections throughout the greater Los Angeles area to a central hub, where traffic managers can change the timing of traffic lights manually and in real time to reflect changing traffic conditions.
“The whole objective is to reduce drive time in LA, which, as you can imagine, is a fairly congested area,” said John Holbrook, president of Systems Integrated, which designed and implemented the system for the county. Rush-hour traffic is the main culprit, and traffic controllers can extend the length of green lights for outbound or inbound traffic depending on the time of day, but the system can also accommodate unforeseen problems such as congestions caused by accidents and even emergencies. The overall result has been a reduction in commute times to LA’s surrounding communities by as much as 20%.
The main limitation to the service, though, is that traffic controllers are still blind to the conditions at each individual intersection, so it depends on outside observers to notify it of changing traffic conditions. The county plans to change that, though, with the help of Systems Integrated and the introduction of traffic cameras that can monitor those conditions in real time and give traffic managers a live view of every major intersection in the county.
However, one thousand video feeds require bandwidth that the current system might not necessarily be able to support. Currently each intersection is outfitted with a site radio that links back to Proxim point-to-multipoint base stations based on the vendor’s proprietary broadband wireless technology. Those sites are then backhauled to the traffic management hub using T-1 connections. While the wireless connections could handle those video feeds, the copper backhaul connections most likely cannot, which would necessitate the city using fiber or IP wireless transport technology to support the increased bandwidth.
But once a more robust network is in place, the number and variety of applications the county can run over the network blossom, Holbrook said. “We can set up a secure subnet on the network for the Sherriff’s department,” Holbrook said. “They could use it as a virtual emergency network, connecting patrol units and mobile command centers. … For other customers, we’ve used these systems for public utilities, linking water pumping stations and link stations.”
LA County is the first of Systems Integrated’s customers to adopt a wireless traffic synchronization system, but Holbrook said there will be many more to follow. Like smart utility grids, video surveillance, and speed enforcement, traffic monitoring and management is quickly becoming an application that lends itself easily to M2M, Holbrook said. “There are other municipalities looking into this,” Holbrook said. “There is quite a movement toward intelligent transportation systems.”
Proxim is discovering that that public and private M2M applications are becoming a big part of its business. While the dominant portion of its equipment sales is still going to ISPs, M2M—particularly video surveillance—is the fastest growing part of its business, Proxim Chief Executive Officer Pankaj Manglik said.
“Volumes for Internet access are still higher, but the equipment is different,” Manglik said. “On a dollar-per-port basis, M2M applications are much higher. It’s becoming one of our top applications.”
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