Navi­ga­ti­on Maps

Is it worth it to update your navi­ga­ti­on map?

Who has the best navi­ga­ti­on maps? Autumn is update time. Tom­Tom and Here are now releasing updates to their navi­ga­ti­on maps. Rea­son enough to take a clo­se look at the two lar­gest map pro­vi­ders, Tom­Tom and Here. What has chan­ged sin­ce spring and how does Open­Street­Map compare?

The navi­ga­ti­on map is the fun­da­men­tal part of any navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware. If the navi­ga­ti­on map is bad, also the Navi can tear not­hing more. For­t­u­n­a­te­ly, the road maps in Euro­pe, as in almost all indu­stria­li­zed nati­ons, are now very good. In Cen­tral Euro­pe, vir­tual­ly all roads are cover­ed in detail, and pro­blems such as miss­ing roads or addres­ses are a rare exception.

Nevert­hel­ess, anyo­ne who tra­vels pro­fes­sio­nal­ly and covers many miles each year knows the places whe­re resi­den­ti­al are­as are rede­ve­lo­ped or sim­ply an inter­sec­tion has been repla­ced by a traf­fic cir­cle. It often then takes a while for the­se chan­ges to show up in the navi­ga­ti­on map pro­vi­ders’ updates.

In this artic­le we want to shed light on the topic of map data prin­ci­ple, explain what dif­fe­ren­ces the­re are bet­ween the various navi­ga­ti­on map pro­vi­ders, whe­ther it is wort­hwhile to update your navi­ga­ti­on maps and how to choo­se the best of all navi­ga­ti­on maps for your own application. 

Basic infor­ma­ti­on about navi­ga­ti­on maps

Let’s start with some basic infor­ma­ti­on about navi­ga­ti­on maps. For our navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware Map­Trip, we use digi­tal road maps from the pro­vi­ders Tom­Tom, Here and Open­Street­Map (OSM).

It is inte­re­st­ing to know that the manu­fac­tu­r­ers do not pro­vi­de us with rea­dy-made navi­ga­ti­on maps in the usu­al sen­se. What we get from Here, for exam­p­le, is a gigan­tic data­ba­se. For Euro­pe alo­ne it has a size of about 500GB! Abstract infor­ma­ti­on is stored in it that is only dis­play­ed as a map by our fur­ther pro­ce­s­sing in our navi­ga­ti­on. Roads are stored e.g. by coor­di­na­tes. In addi­ti­on the­re is the infor­ma­ti­on that the­re is a road bet­ween the coor­di­na­tes, that this road is a four-lane high­way, that the­re is nor­mal­ly a speed of 50km/h, etc. In addi­ti­on, the exact cour­se of rivers, forests and all kinds of forest roads is stored in this data­ba­se. So for the use in the navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware first the real­ly neces­sa­ry data must be fil­te­red out. This redu­ces the data size from over 500 to 6GB!

Length of road net­work 1.3 or 2.1 mil­li­on kilo­me­ters — Who offers more?

Let’s take a look at the map data of Ger­ma­ny in num­bers, as they end up in the Map­Trip navi­ga­ti­on maps after our fil­te­ring pro­cess. First of all, the­re is the com­bi­ned length of all roads. The two com­mer­cial pro­vi­ders Tom­Tom and Here show about 1.9 and 1.3 mil­li­on kilo­me­ters, while Open­Street­Map comes to a proud 2.1 mil­li­on kilo­me­ters. It is temp­ting to mis­in­ter­pret the­se figu­res as an indi­ca­ti­on of the qua­li­ty of the navi­ga­ti­on maps. In fact, it is not at all. The length of the road net­work is cau­sed, for exam­p­le, by the amount of bike paths, dirt roads and forest roads that end up in our navi­ga­ti­on map after our fil­te­ring. If, on the other hand, we compa­re the length of the high­ways, we get the same length for all three pro­vi­ders except for a few meters.

Desti­na­ti­on found? Navi­ga­ti­on Maps con­tain tens of mil­li­ons of addresses

If you count the num­ber of addres­ses in Ger­ma­ny, it is noti­ceable that Tom­Tom and Here have recor­ded signi­fi­cant­ly more addres­ses than OSM with about 16 mil­li­on. This is pro­ba­b­ly due to the fact that the map­pers enjoy dra­wing roads, rivers and lakes more than the bor­ing recor­ding of addres­ses and their coordinates.

So if you want to enter addres­ses into your navi­ga­ti­on, you are pro­ba­b­ly bet­ter off with Tom­Tom or Here navi­ga­ti­on maps. A clo­se look at the address data also shows ano­ther big advan­ta­ge of the com­mer­cial map pro­vi­ders: Here, addres­ses are relia­bly recor­ded in the always exact­ly same data for­mat. With OSM, the addres­ses are some­ti­mes recor­ded in dif­fe­rent formats.

On the other hand, if you alre­a­dy have coor­di­na­tes of your desti­na­ti­ons, you will pro­ba­b­ly rather trans­fer them to the navi­ga­ti­on via inter­face. Then the num­ber of addres­ses recor­ded in the navi­ga­ti­on map is no lon­ger important and OSM can be an attrac­ti­ve alternative.

Is it wort­hwhile to update navi­ga­ti­on maps ?

Navigation Maps
A map of the lig­nite mining area bet­ween Colo­gne (on the right edge of the map) and Aachen. The red lines show the roads and high­way sec­tions that had to give way to open­cast lig­nite mining.

From this point of view, pri­va­te users do not neces­s­a­ri­ly have to use every update offe­red for navi­ga­ti­on maps. In pro­fes­sio­nal use, whe­re you dri­ve every day and the navi­ga­ti­on is sup­po­sed to sim­pli­fy your dai­ly work, every miss­ing address, every wrong announce­ment at a chan­ged inter­sec­tion or even a miss­ing truck blocka­ge would be more than annoying.

For­t­u­n­a­te­ly, howe­ver, the days are gone when updating navi­ga­ti­on maps meant a huge effort. In the pro­fes­sio­nal envi­ron­ment, it is usual­ly not one or two navi­ga­ti­on systems that need to be updated, but all the devices in a fleet, i.e. 10, 20 or even hundreds of devices. This used to mean a huge manu­al effort. We have the­r­e­fo­re put a lot of thought into Map­Trip and that is why our navi loads almost all map data dewy and always up to date from our ser­vers. The­re we take care of regu­lar updates, so that our cus­to­mers have no effort at all.

Navi­ga­ti­on even in the event of a dis­aster wit­hout Internet

But of cour­se, this requi­res a func­tio­ning Inter­net con­nec­tion. The flood in the Ahr val­ley in the sum­mer of 2021 show­ed that you can­not always rely on a func­tio­ning infras­truc­tu­re. Espe­ci­al­ly for navi­ga­ti­on users in pro­fes­sio­nal (may­be even system-cri­ti­cal) indu­stries, this is an important aspect. Map­Trip can the­r­e­fo­re store navi­ga­ti­on map data as a back­up on the device, so that it is also pos­si­ble to navi­ga­te off­line, i.e. wit­hout Internet.

Truck navi­ga­ti­on with OSM? Bet­ter not!

Not all navi­ga­ti­on maps are crea­ted equal! Unli­ke almost all other navi­ga­ti­on systems, Map­Trip offers its user a choice of map mate­ri­al. So how do you deci­de whe­ther the navi­ga­ti­on map from Open Street Map, Here or Tom­Tom is the right one? We’ll try to give you some help in deci­ding and explain the cri­te­ria by which you can judge navi­ga­ti­on maps. Let’s start with a simp­le example:

If you are loo­king for a GPS navi­ga­ti­on for your truck, you need navi­ga­ti­on maps that con­ta­ins the height of tun­nels, the maxi­mum weight for bridges and other truck rest­ric­tions like clo­sures for dan­ge­rous goods. OSM does con­tain many such truck attri­bu­tes, but not all, and not relia­bly, and not in all count­ries! So we would never advi­se a cus­to­mer to use OSM navi­ga­ti­on map for his truck navi­ga­ti­on! In this case, you should defi­ni­te­ly choo­se one of the two com­mer­cial pro­vi­ders that deli­ver qua­li­ty-assu­red navi­ga­ti­on maps with truck attributes.

How do I choo­se the right navi­ga­ti­on map for me?

In which coun­try, in which regi­on am I traveling?

In some deman­ding spe­cial appli­ca­ti­ons, we expe­ri­ence time and again that a cus­to­mer has pro­blems with the map of one pro­vi­der and ever­ything dis­ap­pears into thin air as soon as he chan­ges his navi­ga­ti­on map. This was the case with a cus­to­mer in Chi­le who­se navi­ga­ti­on system did not work at all at first, and then work­ed per­fect­ly after the navi­ga­ti­on map has been chan­ged. In Euro­pe, howe­ver, the­re is usual­ly no gene­ral dif­fe­rence bet­ween the com­mer­cial pro­vi­ders Tom­Tom and Here.

With Open­Street­Map, howe­ver, it gene­ral­ly makes sen­se to take a look at the maps befo­re making a decis­i­on. It makes a noti­ceable dif­fe­rence whe­ther you are tra­ve­ling in Gre­at Bri­tain (the home coun­try of OSM) or in France, which is much less digitized.

Which appli­ca­ti­on is planned?

The type of navi­ga­ti­on appli­ca­ti­on is cri­ti­cal to the choice of navi­ga­ti­on maps. While truck navi­ga­ti­on almost ine­vi­ta­b­ly rules out OSM, Open­Street­Map can have gre­at bene­fits for other appli­ca­ti­ons! Open­Street­Map often has a huge amount of detail. Not only roads and inter­sec­tions but also almost every pede­stri­an and bicy­cle path (*) is cover­ed here. This can be a gre­at advan­ta­ge for appli­ca­ti­ons in waste manage­ment or win­ter road main­ten­an­ce, becau­se the­se paths also need to be tra­ve­led. On the other hand, the fact that not all turn-by-turn direc­tions and addres­ses are inclu­ded in OSM does not mat­ter here!

Live traf­fic reports — the icing on Navi­ga­ti­on maps

Navi­ga­ti­on maps are a sta­tic repre­sen­ta­ti­on of a dyna­mical­ly chan­ging envi­ron­ment. This for­mu­la­ti­on should make it clear that navi­ga­ti­on maps can­not per­fect­ly repre­sent rea­li­ty at any time. Howe­ver, cur­rent traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on comes very clo­se to this ideal!

The­re is almost no appli­ca­ti­on sce­na­rio for navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware that could not be impro­ved by using traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on. In truck navi­ga­ti­on it is cry­stal clear. Time is money and who wants to waste his money stan­ding in a traf­fic jam? Traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on is not only available live as traf­fic reports, but also off­line as sta­tis­ti­cal infor­ma­ti­on for plan­ning future trips. This makes them part of navi­ga­ti­on maps, and the choice of map pro­vi­der also deter­mi­nes the choice of traf­fic information.

While the sta­tic map con­ta­ins basic infor­ma­ti­on about road cour­ses and addres­ses, traf­fic info brings navi­ga­ti­on maps to life. For appli­ca­ti­ons in logi­stics, the con­side­ra­ti­on of traf­fic mes­sa­ges should recei­ve as much atten­ti­on as the assess­ment of the navi­ga­ti­on maps itself!

Tom­Tom – Brief com­pa­ny history

The com­pa­ny Tom­Tom has grown up as a manu­fac­tu­rer of navi­ga­ti­on devices. In 2011, Tom­Tom acqui­red the map manu­fac­tu­rer Tele Atlas. A few years later, it was joi­n­ed by a group of Ber­lin-based rese­ar­chers who gene­ra­te up-to-the-minu­te traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on from vehic­le move­ment data. Today, Tom­Tom is acti­ve as a pro­vi­der of navi­ga­ti­on maps for the auto­mo­ti­ve indu­stry, map data and traf­fic information.

Here – Brief com­pa­ny history

Here has a very eventful com­pa­ny histo­ry. It all star­ted with Nav­teq, which was foun­ded in Chi­ca­go in 1985 as a map manu­fac­tu­rer (in com­pe­ti­ti­on with Tele Atlas). In 2011, Nav­teq was acqui­red by Nokia and ren­a­med Here. Nokia had also taken over the Ber­lin-based navi­ga­ti­on start-up Gate5, who­se map and navi­ga­ti­on tech­no­lo­gy was mer­ged into Here. Fur­ther­mo­re, the Bonn-based T‑Traffic (a sub­si­dia­ry of Tele­kom) was acqui­red as a know-how car­ri­er for traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on. In 2015, Here was final­ly acqui­red by a con­sor­ti­um of Daim­ler, BMW and Audi.

About Open Street Map

Open­Street­Map is the Wiki­pe­dia of street maps. Ever­yo­ne can con­tri­bu­te to OSM by digi­tiz­ing places with a GPS recei­ver or by dra­wing streets via a web edi­tor, adding addres­ses or ente­ring the loca­ti­on of their favo­ri­te ice cream par­lor. OSM was laun­ched in Eng­land in 2004 and has deve­lo­ped rapid­ly sin­ce then. Accor­ding to OSMStats, the­re are about 8 mil­li­on mem­bers, of which an avera­ge of about 6,000 are acti­ve daily.

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