Wi-Fi + Smart Cities

Wi-Fi-enabled pilot project in Madison, WI aims to make municipal transit systems more efficient and effective

By Bill Maguire, Director of WifiForward’s Save our Wi-Fi Campaign

Researchers in Madison, Wisconsin have deployed a pilot project that illustrates that Wi-Fi networks can help transit operators develop bus routes that minimize wait times, a definite benefit to the community if you ask any rider.

“The basis of the project is that Wi-Fi routers detect people’s Wi-Fi-enabled devices,” explains Dr. Suman Banerjee of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “A router installed on a bus detects people’s devices at a bus stop, near a bus stop and, of course, on the bus. A router can collect all of this information.”

Professor Banerjee and his project team have developed an algorithm that effectively transforms communications to and from a bus’s Wi-Fi router into crowd-sourced transit planning data. They’re pairing up the physical network of bus routes with wireless bus networks to bring riders the best possible level of service.

Working with Madison Metro Transit and the Van Galder Bus Company since early 2015, Professor Banerjee’s team has outfitted five buses to collect information that answers important questions aimed at improving the local bus system without requiring expensive and labor-intensive surveys.

Wi-Fi Enabled Bus

These research questions include:

· How many people (with devices) are on a bus during any period of time?
· When and where do bus riders (with devices) get on and off a bus?
· Around which bus stops are the largest number of people (with devices) present?
· How many passenger miles are provided by a bus route?

According to Professor Banerjee, the data required to answer these questions, and many others, are available as a function of extrapolations based on measurements of a device’s signal strength and measurements of connection time and location.

Madison Metro Transit can use the data provided by the pilot project to validate and refine its schedules and routes and to test potential new schedules and routes. The busing company can use the data to collect an array of data it is required to provide related to the transportation services it is delivering to the community.

Q: How can Wi-Fi help make municipal transit systems more efficient and effective?
A: By providing a new approach to developing better transit usage and transit planning data.

Oh, and, Professor Banerjee indicates that many riders on the outfitted buses in Madison have expressed that they enjoy the Wi-Fi access!

Few would have predicted this particular use of Wi-Fi. Fortunately, the extremely large installed base of Wi-Fi enabled devices and the fact that Wi-Fi operates on unlicensed bands of spectrum that are free to access enable this type of innovation. Madison’s municipal busing pilot is a great example of the ubiquity of Wi-Fi and its tremendous power to enrich and improve our lives.

To help ensure Wi-Fi enabled pilot projects like Madison’s continue, sign our petition and let policymakers know that you think we need make certain that we have reliable access to unlicensed spectrum.

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