OmniAir making bid to have its Certification Services subsidiary plan testing programs for E-ZPass interoperability effort
By Peter Samuel
2012-10-15: The OmniAir Consortium is making a bid to develop test plans and manage certification for the E-ZPass Group (EZPG) in its efforts to advance national interoperability of electronic toll systems. October 11 Tim McGuckin executive director of OmniAir and Ted Osinski of MET Laboratories also an OmniAir Certification Services (OCS) board member spoke at a special executive committee meeting of the E-ZPass Group (EZPG) at their offices in Wilmington DE.
The EZPG executives were interested in hearing details of the OCS' testing for their first qualified toll technology, the 6C sticker tags, the 3M/Sirit system having completed certification in September.
The E-ZPass Group is looking at different options for managing testing as part of their effort to establish how to handle tags from the various state toll blocs in Texas, Florida, California and other places with different electronic toll or RFID protocols.
Affiliate membership is now being offered by the EZPG for tollers with different electronic (transponder-reader) technology but who have proposals for interoperability. North Carolina Turnpike with 6B+ protocol and TransCore 6B+/E-ZPass dual protocol transponders plus multi-protocol readers is set to be the first affiliate member later this year.
The TransCore equipment in use in North Carolina has been found to meet EZPG standards.
(The plus sign on 6B for 6B+ is used to denote TransCore's proprietary security additions to the open standard ISO 18000 6B as used in TransCore products that now do most tolling in Florida, Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Uncertain number of protocols to be tested
Florida, Texas and Oklahoma are more complicated than North Carolina because they already have readers reading two protocols - the newer 6B+ sticker tags plus a lot of older or first generation hardbodied tags some with batteries, some without batteries, that use the obsolete ATA protocol. To work in E-ZPassland with the tags now on windshields in the south they will need at least tri-protocol (IAG, 6B+, ATA) readers and testing of the effect on performance of allocating three time slots to each passing vehicle versus two as in NC.
Adding California Title 21 with the Allegro protocol and the growing group of newer 6C protocol users (CO, UT, WA, GA, LA, Amb Br) means that as many as five protocols would need to be read.
Or if the legacy tags within Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and California could be fully retired within the four years laid down in federal law (MAP21) for national interoperability, then the number of protocols to be handled could be kept to three (IAG, 6B+, 6C).
Key decisions remain to be made but whatever is decided there is a lot more testing needed to establish the performance of multi protocol equipment, and the kind of trade-offs of accommodating two, three, four or five protocols in the traffic stream.
There is so much potential testing possible that devising relevant, cost-effective test plans is a major management challenge.
Three years and $3 million was reportedly spent testing of Mark IV/Kapsch and TransCore equipment bid for the EZPG second generation procurement and that was almost entirely single protocol (IAG) testing. If done the same way for multi protocol equipment the costs of testing could rise to the third ($27m), fourth ($81m) or fifth power ($243m) of that! And the time too, if the same approach was used to test every possible combination, and every one as exhaustively!?!
Of course no one is proposing that, but it indicates the impossibility of working with the traditional EZPG testing approach, and meeting the MAP21 deadline.
As a result of the meeting October 11 OmniAir is providing details of their test plans for 6C and in return the EZPG will give OmniAir details of the test plans used for their famous Kapsch/TransCore shoot-out (both won in the sense of passing performance requirements, but Kapsch won on price.)
Target testing costs presented
The Delaware meeting also saw OmniAir provide an estimate of its 'target costs' for testing 6C as an illustration of possible costs of future testing. The bottom line (see detail nearby) was $30k to $42k per device tested and sale of the test reports to tollers at $2,000 per report.
The sales pitch was put thus in a slide:
"OCS would be pleased to participate in the E-ZPass Group's efforts to expand its tolling requirements to allow alternate types of equipment
"OCS can develop an independent industry-driven certification program for E-ZPass to ensure and maintain interoperability and performance among different devices
"The program, including testing requirements, will be driven by E-ZPass User Group's requirements.
"OCS certification will provide consistent testing, repeatable test results and standardized reporting."
They say in another:
"OCS Certification will:
• Reduce testing costs for E-ZPass program
• OCS offloads many of the test costs currently assumed by operators
• Identify issues faster through in-depth testing at the labs
• On-demand certification testing leads to shorter cycles and faster results.
• Purchase test reports before selecting devices for further testing
• Provide a uniform level of assurance through a performance based testing program
• Enables a multi-source environment for equipment and systems"
OCS was set up in 2010 with a board of seven - three testing labs reps and three tollers and an independent. It is sponsored by the consortium but is to have its own board.
Three testers are appointed directors - MET Labs, TUV Rheinland, and Concurrent Technologies.
Of the three tollers only the New York State Thruway has a board position now, but two others have expressed interest in board positions.
Opening up 'closed' standards?
An as-yet-unreported source of tension is how proprietary versus open standards will be handled. How far is the IAG protocol still a proprietary standard of Kapsch, and 6B+ of TransCore? Is there a serious possibility of litigation if other suppliers offer multi protocol equipment catering to these protocols. Or will there be licensing?
6C's big promise has been its open standard. And with competitive suppliers 6C transponder costs make them almost give-aways - $1 to $2/transponder versus $8 to $25 for proprietary equipment with similar capability.
OmniAir has been a champion of open standards from its inception, and Tim McGuckin executive director makes an argument that national interoperability cannot be achieved without open standards for the protocols chosen.
The EZPG has made a step toward that with the affiliate membership and its acceptance that affiliates will be able to read EZPG's IAG protocol tags and the encouragement of other tollers to move to readers that read IAG tags.
The IAG standard while formally proprietary is quietly being opened up.
Smaller toll technology blocs than the EZPG giant may find it more difficult to deal with TransCore in the same way.
6C is something of a bargaining lever. The less accommodating the holders of proprietary technology are, the more attractive 6C becomes as the lead protocol for national interoperability.
OCS Testing Approach document:
OCS presentation to EZPG executive committee: