Sunday, March 18, 2012

Traffic: TomTom vs Garmin

TomTom vs Garmin traffic

Last week, TomTom announced the results of a University of Michigan study that “concluded that TomTom’s iPhone Navigation App and GO 2535 Portable Navigation Device provide the most accurate real-time traffic data, when compared to a number of competing products.” As I pointed out in my weekly link roundup, TomTom paid for the study (full PDF report available here), which raises questions of bias. Now we have Garmin’s take on it:

The traffic study published this week by the University of Michigan does not provide a basis for an adequate and objective comparison between traffic functionalities offered on current nüvi devices and products that compete with it. The results differ substantially from our own internal research and we believe that this is the case due to some fundamental shortcomings in how this study was conducted that challenge its fairness and objectivity. TomTom sponsored the study, and the acknowledgements specifically call out four individuals from TomTom and thanks them for their support. Garmin, however, was not made aware of the study and therefore was not able to make sure the PNDs are representative of our current technology, point out any concerns with the test plan and test environment, and to ensure up-to-date software and maps. This gave TomTom an unfair advantage as is evident from the following points:

1. The two connected Garmin nüvis in the study (1690 and 1695) were 3-4 years old (Garmin no longer manufactures those) and do not represent our latest traffic avoidance technology. Newer Garmin devices work with a smartphone app called Smartphone Link (SPL) that is designed to pair with a PND to provide a connected traffic service similar to the TomTom PND used in the study.  A fair comparison would have used the SPL app instead of the older Garmin connected PNDs. The Garmin PNDs used for HD traffic, the 3490 (from 2011) and 3590 (from Jan 2012) were older models (2011/12) which have been superseded by the 3597. The TomTom PND (2535 TM) is TomTom’s latest, premium unit (see

2. There is no assurance that the software on the Garmin devices used for the study was up to date. This is even more important considering that the devices were 1.5 to 4 years old.  There is no mention of the software or map versions used on the PNDs in the study. The most current software includes any bug fixes and or map updates that might resolve problems on older devices.

3. The testing conditions do not resemble the experience a customer would have. Having six electronic devices in close proximity (see Figure 2 on page 9) can adversely affect the HD Radio reception and result in interference in receiving the HD Traffic information. Most customers would not drive with a similar set up and a fair test would have considered and eliminated RF interference.

4.The study used some navigation devices with cellular and some with broadcast connectivity to receive traffic information. It did not, however, consider how the accuracy of a traffic service is affected by signal coverage. Connected devices can only receive information where cellular coverage exists and broadcast traffic devices can only receive traffic information where broadcast coverage exists. So the decision on where a traffic service is tested can have a significant impact on the outcome. Parts of the study were conducted in areas without HD broadcast coverage, so naturally, the Garmin device with HD Digital Traffic would miss messages in these areas. This would not have been the case if only PNDs with the same type of traffic technology would’ve been used, such as a Garmin PND in conjunction with the Smartphone Link app.

Nevertheless, TomTom does have a good reputation for traffic accuracy, which may be largely due to their IQ Routes historical road speed database. But IQ Routes is never mentioned in the study. So here are my own questions:

  • Was the study conducted with IQ Routes enabled or disabled?
  • Where does IQ Routes data now come from? The diminishing number of TomTom PNDs on the road? iPhones?
  • What kind of real world RF interference could be expected with multiple HD devices? Does an HD car radio interfere with an HD traffic receiver?

Chime in with your own thoughts and questions below…

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Jon Henderson says:

    Never owned a tomtom but have just replaced my 1490 with a 2508 that uses HD traffic, and so far it’s been 100% accurate, can’t ask for more than that really 🙂

  2. Offthegrid says: is the single biggest reason that TT data is better. They can report traffic conditions on any roads where they are getting feedback from their 76 million US traffic probes.

    Navteq creates sections of roads, not sections of all roads and polls its probes for time to start the section and time to reach the end. Navteq has far far fewer probes because when purchased by Nokia they were held back from making apps for the iphone and android. Just for Windows phones. Consequentially Navteq has the worst road coverage.

    Additionally TT has historical data down to a one minute segment for all roads. Navteq can’t come close.

    In my commute home the last leg of it always revolves around 3 ways to get there and which one works best at the time and day I am headed there. Navteq doesn’t cover anything on the third route and that is an issue because sometimes the routes are partially used to reveal the fastest way home. TomTom makes that decision easily and is almost always correct. Occasionally I know better than to take a route that depends on me making a left against traffic on a well traveled road and reroute myself. It even shows that I made the better choice and guess what it learns from that and will adjust in future map updates.

    • Thanks! So do you think they are getting traffic data back from just their mobile nav apps or are they getting it from a broader mobile source too, like all iPhones, or all iPhones running Apple maps?

  3. Offthegrid says:

    In TomTom’s case because they provide ‘some’ of the data for Apples in house maps, I’d wager they get every new iPhone as a probe. That 76 million probe number for the US came directly from TomTom. They have probe data from Android where someone uses their app or from any of the connected PND’s they have including WebFleet customers.

    Now estimate how many Nokia phones have been sold in the last few years. No one is using Symbian any more in the US. So it’s that plus any connected Garmin’s reporting to them.

    The old Navteq relied on thousands of employees in ‘traffic’ centers all over the US watching cameras and taking local DOT reports to show traffic. They were doing this up until Nokia bought them. Their current methods came from the Mobile Millennium project at Cal Berkley. That’s how I know they create sections of roads rather than every road.

    Google has more data to work with including Inrix, AirSage and their own probes (much more data) and they still don’t do anything other than offer three routes.

    Frankly I would love to see Garmin and TomTom merge. Their situation is somewhat similar to Dish and DirecTv. There are a lot of good things about Garmin so my praise for TT traffic doesn’t mean I’m downing Garmin but their use of Navteq for Traffic hurts their product imo.

  4. Offthegrid says:

    I came across a good comparison of traffic services on Saturday night. I had a guest coming from the north side of Providence and they called to say they were stuck in traffic and would be late. This was late on Friday night. There was a wrong way drunk driver that caused a four car pile up on the iWay Bridge in Providence.

    I checked google maps and it showed a traffic jam in the area. I checked Mapquest (Inrix) and it showed a back up. I check TT Routes and it showed a backup. I check Here and Bing and neither showed a backup just all green.

    Navteq just isn’t in a position to compete for all the reasons I mentioned earlier.

    Interesting to note that Inrix has moved to a traffic mapping system similar to TT OpenLR which will allow them to show more data on side roads as TomTom and Google do. Navyeq is stuck with their antiquated system despite it being only a few years old.

  5. I am for Waze 🙂

  6. This is one thing that’s making me hesitate on getting my next GPS- 100% Garmin- since I’ve decided to ditch TomTom. I’m trying to figure, is it better to spend the money up front for a model with HD (like the 2XX8 or 3XXX series) or just get the standard model like the 2557LMT? I currently use a GO Live and when the HD traffic is working, it’s great. But Live Services doesn’t work reliably so I don’t plan on re-upping the subscription. I also understand that TT HD is tied via SIM card to ATT’s 2G network, and that network is being slowly shut down. So, will TT change the network to 3G, or will they just say “Tough Luck” and blow us legacy users off ?

    • Live services work great on an Android phone/tablet because the 2G sim is killing the pnd’s. Little 2G spectrum being used and I imagine TT is paying for a lower priority service. I understand from another forum that TT is holding back their new models in the US for just the reason you mention so here they may come with hspda, hspa+ or whatever modems for more money rather than the 2G that Europe got.

      I had 2 Garmins both die on me each within a year. Both BSOD after updates. I’ve had good luck with TT but they have lots of issues as you know. Strictly as a GPS Garmin makes better hardware.

      I had a Nexus 7 running TT’s android app and was real happy with the service but a Nexus is way too big on the dash board in part because there are no real good holders unless you drill. One spill and the screen cracked on me.

      Planning on getting a 5 inch android for the dash board for maybe $150 or so. You can change phones and you can keep the app not to an iPhone but android to android. You need a wifi adapter or a hot spot from your smart phone if you have one.

      I’m on an old TT right now and waiting for early 2014 to see whats coming before I buy another.

      • Wonderful info, OTG! I have to wonder; I’ve read that ATT will have the 2G grid shut down in 2017, maybe sooner. So, if my GO is still up (I doubt it, but possible), what’s to be done? It wouldn’t surprise me if TT simply offers its legacy users the middle finger.

        I just got this GO Live this year. When it’s working it does very well, but it has frozen on me several times- hardly instilling trust. I had an older TT One XL and it was fantastic. This GO has been a right pain in that I STILL don’t have Fuel Prices, my Speed Camera database is outdated (the blasted TT PC interface MyDrive keeps nagging me on that account), and in my area ATT reception comes and goes like Hamlet’s father. TomTom’s customer informs me that they know there’s a problem, and they’ll get around to it before the turn of the century. In the past few weeks, the GO has been doing better, but for the first two months I owned it, I’d have been better off with a map scribbled on notebook paper.

        As I’m a long-time TomTom user- and have never used a Garmin- I’m starting to get the feeling that getting a Garmin may be a bad idea. The Garmin fanboys like them (and I like their looks and reputation, frankly), but then there’s always a bit that sneaks in like “Well, it diverted me down a dirt road while in the middle of New York City” or “I was sitting in a highway jam in L.A. for six hours when the Garmin Traffic suddenly came on and said there might be light traffic”.

        There’s no doubt TT has great routing, and when it’s on HD Traffic is very good (I took a 1200 mile trip recently and HD spotted every highway construction site but one on the trip). Their screens give you all the info you need (street you’re on, next turn, ETA, lane guidance). But after dealing with them and their user forums over issues with my GO, I can’t help but be drawn to the nuvi 2598 or 3597.

        • I’m not sure what area you are in but some AT&T 2G areas are taking it on the chin sooner than others and they just announced a new refarming effort to speed up 2G dismantling. They’re under a lot of stress to maintain their network. They lost spectrum to T-Mobile because of the break up agreement. You are right end of 2017 but I’m betting even sooner. There is a good read on that here:

          Routing and traffic are better on TT there is no doubt but the move away from FAT32 made them move to the webkit interface for TT Home. That was a disaster. They were desperate for cash I think so they didn’t want to settle with Microsoft.

          You can still get Live 1535m’s brand new on ebay or even online at BestBuy. I know someone who bought one and that has never had any issues for them.

  7. Agree totally. Before the Microsoft suit, TT Home was a winning program. You could take care of itinerary, favorites, updating and personalization INSIDE the PC interface. They’ve recently updated it’s successor, MyTomTom, with the nearly identical MyDrive and- while I must say I had no problems with the program at all- they had compatibility issues with some user’s web browsers, resulting in update problems.

    In the mid-Atlantic , mountainous region in which I live, ATT is basically relegated to the interstate area. Once you get about 2 miles from the freeway, you’d better have Verizon. It would be interesting to know when ATT shuts down 2G service in our area. Verizon is a force of nature in this area. I don’t believe I know anyone who uses ATT, so that might hasten the shutdown here. Live Services takes about 3-5 minutes to become functional once I get to the interstate. I suppose that’s due to the slowness of data transfer via 2G.

    I have the 1535TM now. Honestly, I’m currently having a love/hate affair with it. As I say, in the past few weeks, it’s been stellar. The Live Services and HD Traffic can be very handy tools. But in the first two months I had it, I developed such an acrimonious relationship with TomTom that I honestly will not purchase another TomTom unit even if my planned Garmin unit directs me into the Atlantic Ocean.

    Warmest Regards, Bill.

  8. Back to the subject and to help out a future Garmin customer, Have any of you on this site used Garmin HD Traffic, and compared to TomTom HD Traffic and Garmin RDS standard traffic, how does it compare? I’m wondering if it’s worth the extra cost?


  9. Offthegrid says:

    Bill Garmin’s HD Traffic (not their Live traffic) is a step up from their RDS traffic both in delivery method – digitally HD Radio and with greater content. That’s a map showing coverage. HD Traffic is transmitted as a digital signal so there is no multipath or error correction needed so a much greater amount of data can be sent and its updated every 30 seconds. I’ve had their Live Traffic on the 1690 and 1695 which is the same data transmitted every 2 minutes but with no boundaries other than wireless carrier coverage. It’s all from Navteq/Here. RDS is severely restricted being analog. The signal has to be sent several times and only class 4 and 5 roadways are covered.

    Now that Navteq/Here is out from underneath Nokia it’s very likely that their data set will improve dramatically though how long that takes is anyone’s guess.

    The traffic you see on Here, Bing, Yahoo Maps is all from Navteq and the comparison is very easy with TomTom Routes however TT throws a curve in as they may show no traffic where there is some because they may have accounted for it in IQRoutes. The travel time is a better way to judge it between them.

    • Marcilio says:

      Hello Offthegrid. I am like to decide to buy the Garmin 2598 Vs Tomtom 1535.
      I agree that having one join the feature of both would be the perfect world. Garmin has some that I like but are not in TT and the same happens on the other way. However, for me, living in Bay Area of San Francisco, ca, Live Traffic is the more important feature to help deciding what is the better commute route to take. Here is my question; Best Buy feature list says that the Garmin 2598 has live(not life) traffic updated = Yes but the TT 1535 has live traffic updated = No. Reading all your comments it seems TT has a better live traffic. Can you then please clarify to me why the feature’s description is saying “no”. What am I missing? Thanks in advance, m

      • offthegrid says:

        The 1535 Live (if that is the model you are writing about (there is also a 1535 that uses RDS analog FM traffic I believe) depends on an AT&T GPRS signal which is rapidly being phased out without announcement. I cannot receive that signal in my area, Rhode Island – South East Massachusetts any longer. So buyer beware on that note.

        Navteq traffic data in the San Francisco area is probably the strongest of any of their US areas. That’s because they had their big beta test of traffic there in conjunction with Cal Berkley a few years ago – . Actually now that Nokia’s phone division isn’t in control of what used to be Navteq I expect their traffic data in the US to improve substantially.

        When it was actively sold on those units TomTom HD traffic was $70 a year after the first year when buying a brand new unit. If the unit is refurb or used that charge would be up front or after the first three months. The lifetime traffic on the Garmin 2598 is free.

        This Garmin accessory gets pretty good ratings on Amazon as helping with reception if that is a problem down the road.

        If I lived in SF buying a Garmin with free lifetime HD Traffic would be my choice. I cannot say though what the BestBuy website refers to specifically but without reference to the GPRS reception issue selling that unit is rather fraud like on their part.

  10. My sincerest thanks to you OTG! You really should be blogging or writing about GPS issues as you’re information is very clear and to the point! 🙂

    I have seen the Navteq chart and the coverage areas seem concentrated on urban areas (naturally). But you’ve cleared up the point on HD versus RDS as it had not occurred to me that HD was the digital and RDS was analog. I don’t believe I have seen that mentioned elsewhere. I understand the difference clearly since the situation is analogous to the analog/digital television switchover.

    This conversation has convinced me that the Garmin I try should be HD. My TT HD hasn’t had much to do on my travels other than warn of construction (thankfully I haven’t hit heavy traffic as I’ve moved around). But going with Garmin and RDS might be an unsatisfactory step backward. The price differential isn’t THAT great.

    Again, my warmest thanks to you, OTG.

  11. My thanks too, Offthegrid. Great discussion! If you ever want to write a post on traffic, just let me know.

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