Street Data Vendors Take Different Tacks

by Matt Ball on July 14, 2011

The Esri International User Conference provides an ideal opportunity to see the best foot forward of most geospatial companies, taking away nuances in how products and services are marketed in order to differentiate offerings and expand business. The street data providers NAVTEQ and TomTom (formerly TeleAtlas) were among the most interesting for their divergent paths and approaches to large-scale data gathering and product offerings. Traffic and navigation are the primary uses of these data sets and services, although each has an eye to greater geospatial platform provisioning.

Both companies were purchased back in 2007, and each has gone through some level of transformation. The transition was at NAVTEQ appears to have been the least disruptive as the same principal players are still with the company, while TomTom has undergone a name change and refresh of corporate management and data collection approach.

Device-Centric Collection

TomTom has entirely embraced the data collection capabilities of their consumer navigation devices, whereas they used to focus on fleets of data collection vehicles and partnerships with government. The community input program is turned on by millions of navigation users around the world each time that they drive, the data input is anonymous, and the travels provide both real-time traffic patterns as well as the collection of more than 4 billion points per year.

With 45 million TomTom devices on the road, this collection effort is significant, and is certainly a lot cheaper that having active crews constantly collecting data in the field. The company has consistently compiled this data for years, and has a database of 4 trillion points that go back to 2007 that they are working to monetize with sales to GIS users. The company also sells quarterly subscriptions for map updates to their device users, which at $40 per year has to amount to a significant revenue source even if only a small percentage of their user base subscribes.

TomTom has real time traffic products that they offer as a service to industry partners that include Enterprise Traffic (with price locations of congestion and delays), HD Flow (with real-time detailed views of speeds for integration with routing programs), and HD Route Times (with details of specific route conditions on a temporary or ongoing subscription basis). These traffic services are in most major markets no win the world, and the company has declared a Traffic Manifesto to accelerate intelligent route guidance systems and to reduce traffic headaches for all drivers.

Field Data Authority

NAVTEQ has continued to send fleets of vehicles into the field, and has recently added lidar data collection in urban centers to their data collection effort. While this lidar data isn’t yet commercialized, it was on display on the main stage of the Esri User Conference as a means to show Esri’s enhanced lidar processing power, and with its large coverage area and precision it is definitely of interest for large-scale digital city modeling.

NAVTEQ’s dominant business is with their in-car navigation devices, with a huge percentage of the auto makers around the world using their data, and engaged in customization of the navigation experience. The company provides the backbone of these services, and with rigorous standards and performance expectations from the car manufacturers, their data quality is a large operational outlay.

NAVTEQ’s quality assurance division employs 70 people alone, and the data quality and ground truth verification was described to me as “the moat around the company” as authoritative and reliable data is central to the brand and the company’s success. The company continues to innovate in terms of the technology on board their mobile field data collection vehicles, with the addition of lidar offering a means to better automate and “automagically” extract some of the 260 attributes that they collect for each road segment.

NAVTEQ’s geospatial strategy centers on a relationship with Esri, now providing NAVTEQ mapdata in Esri file geodatabase format, and offering their data through Esri’s online offering ArcGIS Online. The company’s point of interest and street data is also part of Yahoo! and Microsoft online map offerings.

After years of very similar business approaches between these two companies, it’s interesting to see them each take a very different approach to data collection and product marketing. The end products of these two companies are still rather closely aligned in terms of geographic coverage and a focus on routing and transportation, but they have diverged significantly on their data collection approach.

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