Hong Kong's public transport network of buses, minibuses, taxis, the Airport Express and railways are the envy of the region, yet the city's roads still operate one mishap away from total gridlock. Check out traffic through Central and the reclamation work in the harbour if this observation seems misguided. But while the Hong Kong metropolis appears to be bursting at the seems, the city is an ideal environment for testing and implementing hi-tech solutions to congestion problems, according to a local firm specialising in 'telematics', or the business of deploying wireless communication devices inside vehicles. 'We are approaching the point in Hong Kong where building your way out of the problem is no longer an option,' said Andy Green, chief technical officer at KG Intelligent Systems. 'You can only build so many roads. You can only provide so much infrastructure. And ultimately, unless the whole city is going to become a transport network, you are eventually stuck unless you find an alternative.' Last year, KG completed a trial with Citybus on route 97 from Central to Lei Tung that included smart signs to give passengers on buses and waiting at stops real-time information on route destinations, connection details and arrival times. The company believes applying technology to traffic problems offers a sustainable way to relieve road congestion, by drawing more users to existing public transport networks and enabling operators to provide more efficient and environmentally friendly services. 'If you're standing at a bus stop and you have no idea when the next bus will arrive, and you see a taxi, there's a good chance in Hong Kong you'll just jump in the cab - but if there's a sign saying the next bus will arrive in two minutes, and you believe that is true, then you are more than likely to wait for the bus,' Mr Green said. The KG system uses GPS-tracking and sensors installed on buses to measure information such as speed and acceleration, which are communicated to servers that calculate estimated arrival times according to pre-programmed traffic models. The system can be expanded to include public service announcements, as well as fleet management tools such as measuring vehicle emissions and engine diagnostics. Telematics systems are already deployed on transport networks in many cities around the world. London has an automatic tolling system for cars entering the city, while buses in Melbourne receive priority signalling at traffic lights. Mr Green also advocates a system of micro-charging, whereby toll and insurance fees are adjusted according to mileage and peak driving times. 'It might look expensive to get on a train and pay $30, but it could easily cost you more to drive your car, except that you've already paid all those bills and you don't see those charges because they are hidden,' he said. But while governments are increasingly deploying telematics to reduce road traffic, car makers and mobile operators around the world are teaming up to deploy the technology to provide alternative revenue streams and enhance the driving experience. Given the dependence of telematics on wireless network coverage, it is not surprising that two of the world's most advanced telecommunications markets, Japan and South Korea, have led the way. Sales in both countries have so far been dominated by GPS-based navigation systems. The Japan Electronics and Information Technologies Industry Association reported that shipments of navigation systems reached 2.8 million units in the first 10 months, up 122.7 per cent over the same period last year. Product offerings look set to diversify in the near future. Japan-based Mobilecast is conducting a trial to stream video via wireless networks to cars and other vehicles. The same company is also a developing a system whereby shop advertisements will pop up on a vehicle's navigation display if it travels through a Wi-fi zone. Toyota has partnered with KDDI to offer a navigation device connected to a mobile network that users can access to retrieve real-time information and check e-mail. Motorola advertises internet-enabled cars as a key component of its 'seamless mobility' marketing drive. Predictably, Microsoft is developing a car version of its ubiquitous operating system in an effort to become the market standard. Telematics have been a long time coming to the mainstream - the first commercial navigation systems have been around since 1999. But now the technology looks set to take off as products have advanced and - just as importantly - price drops have made products more affordable. Mr Green said the usefulness of the technology was dependent on the kind of information that could be accessed. 'If all that information is on a website and you can access it from your car, you can change your route to avoid a traffic jam,' he said. 'As this information flows out more people will use it.'