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Gridlock in downtown Abu Dhabi.
Ryan Carter Staff
Gridlock in downtown Abu Dhabi.

Navteq to steer taxi drivers out of jam

Electronic mapping company to team up with major cab firms to offer live in-car information.

Drivers across the country who are fed up with frequently finding themselves in gridlocks may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Navteq, the electronic maps company owned by the mobile phone giant Nokia, aims to offer live information to motorists to help steer them on to traffic jam-free roads.

The US-based provider of geographic information systems data hopes to team up with major taxi companies to use live traffic information gathered by computers in their cabs to keep the software up to date. Navteq will also use data gathered by traffic applications on Nokia mobile phones. "You can imagine that in a city like Dubai, if you're able to get several thousand taxis, which are driving 24 hours a day, to send you data that's a really critical and important source," said Ghassan Freij, the director of business development and general manager of the MENA region for Navteq.

"To build a good traffic service, at the end of the day, you need to utilise as many sources as you can get." The Finnish mobile maker Nokia bought Navteq in 2007 for US$8.1 billion (Dh29.75bn) but the digital mapping company operates as an independent subsidiary. Nokia implemented Navteq's technology shortly after the purchase and recently upgraded its mobile mapping application to provide "turn-by-turn" navigation for its users. There are several methods used to incorporate traffic data into an application. One is to gather data from moving vehicles or mobile devices and calculate traffic flow using distance and time calculations. Another is to install sensors at various points on the roads network to monitor traffic flow.

Mr Freij said Navteq was intending to use the former method because the latter required government approvals. "To install those sensors, product-wise, requires certain permissions from the government," he said. "That has been possible over the years in places such as the UK and Germany ? but not in this region." Mr Freij declined to comment on when Navteq intended to make live traffic information available to its local subscribers, saying "it will take time when you are dealing with something that is a new concept to the region".

Navteq's mapping application competes locally with Google and TomTom but, given its relationship with Nokia and its legacy global positioning satellite (GPS) devices, it has a significant presence in the UAE. Last year, more than 2.8 million Nokia devices were sold in the country, figures from the technology research company IDC show. Many of those included a Nokia mapping application. "We think the moment that traffic is available, especially in this market, [it] is going to significantly drive up demand," Mr Freij said. Navteq has offices in Dubai, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia where workers regularly update its digital maps to reflect changes in the environment. Another office is set to open in Jordan and the company is looking at entering the Iraqi market once greater stability is secured.

"As far as this region is concerned, the focus is on expansion," Mr Freij said. "We have really aggressive expansion on every possible track related to our business. We're pursuing the same strategy that we've been pursuing in core markets such as investing exponentially in visual content, three-dimensional views and to ? improve the customer experience." Other initiatives Navteq is working on in the local market include embedding mobile advertising into its mapping application.

The company already has deals with businesses such as Mashreqbank to highlight branch locations on its maps but Navteq would also like to offer targeted advertising that appears when a user enters a certain area. @Email:dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae

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