Westwood One Taps Cell-Phone Data for Traffic Reports

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Westwood One announced a partnership with AirSage to combine traffic speed and flow information derived from cell-phone signals with into its Metro Traffic service starting this month.

"This is compelling technology from Westwood One's standpoint," executive vice president Jonathan Marshall said.

The company already uses automated systems to gather data on traffic patterns and slowdowns in the communities it serves, but much of that is based on roadside sensors that only cover a limited number of roadways. AirSage can provide a more comprehensive picture by tapping the much more far-reaching cellular-phone network.

AirSage CEO Cy Smith said the cellular-phone carriers track the positions of millions of cell phones as a byproduct of operating their networks, simply to detect which antenna can best reach any given phone. By tracking the movement of the phones, AirSage is able to deduce which signals are coming from moving vehicles and, consequently, how quickly those vehicles are moving. The company currently gets this data from Sprint Nextel, and it is in negotiations to obtain it from another major carrier, he said.

"This is our biggest and best opportunity to get this technology into the hands of the consumer," Smith added.

Marshall said access to the AirSage data will be an additional option offered to Metro Traffic customers, with pricing determined by their individual bundle of services.

AirSage has been marketing the technology independently, and some television stations are already using it. Tracey Watkowski, news director at KFSN Fresno, Calif., said because only one of the local highways is equipped with automated traffic sensors, having access to a broader picture of traffic patterns based on the cell-phone data has been particularly important. "We think it's been a real asset to our traffic programming and viewers," she added.

KFSN has been using the AirSage service for about two years, in combination with traffic graphics from Beat the Traffic.

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