Turning vehicles into WiFi hotspots


João Barros, the former national director of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal program, and Susana Sargento, a professor at Portugal’s University of Aveiro, have launched Veniam, a startup that harnesses public transportation fleets to deliver Wi-Fi access to citizens.

More and more cars are equipped with internet access, and the internet-of-things adds more devices to the internet than before. All these devices need a connection to the internet in order to work. Additionally, more users are using online services while they are mobile. Multiple apps, such as routing applications, realtime schedules for public transportation, text messaging that one might be late, and streaming services accessible while sitting in the train require access to the internet to be useful. Using the cellular networks from mobile providers is expensive. Barros’ research indicates that every gigabyte sent through a cellular connection costs roughly $15; whereas, through fixed Wi-Fi infrastructure, it’s only around 85 cents. “Vehicles, if you think about it, are ideal hot spots because they have a battery, and everywhere you have a lot of people, you have a lot of vehicles,” Barros said. “Through our algorithms and network protocol, we are always able to choose the best and cheapest connection point.”

Besides providing cheaper WI-Fi to the citizens, the system could serve as a collection method for smart city data and predictive analytics — providing sensors are installed in the fleets.

Elaborating, Barros said affordable sensors could easily be placed on vehicles to collect data on such things as air pollution, traffic patterns, noise levels, fuel consumption and weather trends, to name a few. The data could be gathered in real time, offering a granular perspective of city life and, when analyzed, could be applied to create bus routes, optimize traffic lights, and serve as evidence for city planners recommending policies and capital projects. For the private sector, he added, the data may even prompt entrepreneurial activity if published as open data.

“Once this massive data is available from the cloud, we are convinced people will come up with all sorts of uses for it that we cannot even imagine today,” Barros said.

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