Q-Free ASA was founded in 1984 as Micro Design by a small group of very talented engineers based in Selbu, a municipality close to Trondheim. Originally focused on the development and supply of electronic toll collection systems, it has since grown to be one of the world’s leading suppliers of complete Intelligent Transport Systems.
History in short
In Norway in the 1980s, the high cost of financing road, bridge and tunnel construction created a need to automate toll systems in order to minimize operational costs and so maximize funds for building infrastructure.
This encouraged a small group of very talented engineers to consider how best to apply technology to the situation.
They formed a company called Micro Design, which in 1986 engaged in an R&D program with the Norwegian Road Authority. This led, in 1988 at Ranheim (Trondheim, Norway), to the deployment of Q-Free, the world’s first full-speed non-stop Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system.
The 1990s saw the first larger deployments of ETC systems. Norway installed large toll cordons in Oslo and Trondheim, and Portugal rolled out a nationwide ETC system called Via Verde in 1995. In 1997, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) released standards for Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC)-based technology for tolling. This contributed to a rapid spread of European ETC technology outside Europe, to markets such as Chile, Australia and Brazil.
This period saw Q-Free become active in tolling markets around the world and, by the turn of the century, the company’s focus was on continuing to expand internationally while maintaining a strong position in its home market. The changing requirements of the tolling sector and developments in other types of technology led, in 2006, to a strategic realignment. Q-Free moved from being very much focused on DSRC technology to offer a much broader range of solutions for Road User Charging (RUC) applications.
Over the 2006-2011 period, the company underwent a major internal restructuring which reflected this decision. It also invested significantly, developing new tolling solutions incorporating Global Navigation Satellite System/Global Positioning System (GNSS/GPS, or satellite) technology as well as acquiring state-of-the-art Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology.
In recent years, the Road User Charging (RUC)/tolling sector has continued to evolve, with both the sophistication and size of tolling schemes driving still further developments. At the same time, the tolling sector has converged with the wider Intelligent Transport System (ITS) sector, as customers look to acquire more holistic infrastructure financing and management solutions, and engineers look to take advantage of common technologies which use open standards, rather than the bespoke solutions which have been used historically.
This trend of convergence led to another change of direction for Q-Free, as it made proactive moves to anticipate and address market requirements. Recent acquisitions in the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) and smart parking management sectors have considerably broadened and enhanced the company’s range of expertise and portfolio. They have resulted in Q-Free being present in all aspects of urban, inter-urban and strategic road management.
At the same time, the company has utilized both existing and acquired intellectual property to become a significant contributor to the connected vehicle/Connected ITS (C-ITS) sector. It has also become a provider of managed service solutions to a wide variety of customers, reflecting their desire to reduce both capital and operating expenditures by taking advantage of Q-Free’s considerable knowledge of global markets.
Q-Free complements its existing parking guidance expertise with the acquisition of Traffiko, a leading developer and supplier of parking management solutions. The move reinforces Q-Free’s position as a provider of ITS and mobility solutions.
Q-Free acquires TDC, Traffic Design and Open Roads Consulting. The moves further strengthen the ATMS portfolio — Open Roads is the developer and supplier of OpenTMS, a modular scalable ATMS platform, and Traffic Design is the leading supplier of ATMS, parking and tolling systems in Slovenia. TDC is the developer and supplier of numerous sensing systems designed to support real-time traffic management. These include weigh-in-motion, vehicle counters/classifiers, cycle/pedestrian monitors, and air quality monitors. The transformation into an all-aspect ITS company begins.
Q-Free continues its moves into the Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS) sector with the acquisitions of Serbian company Elcom and US company Intelight. Elcom’s main offerings are controllers for traffic lights, LED streetlights and system solutions for different traffic control applications based on own and third-party products. Intelight offers class-leading technology within traffic control equipment and traffic centrals and, as well as its products complementing those of Elcom, it brings an important internationalization element to Q-Free’s ATMS strategy.
Q-Free is awarded the Gothenburg congestion tax charging project in Sweden. Focuses on Advanced Transportation Management Systems (ATMS) with the acquisition of US Company TCS International, Inc. TCS was established in 1999 and is an innovative company within the ATMS field, specializing in parking guidance and management systems.
Positioned for breakthrough in Indonesia
Q-Free’s market position strengthened significantly in 2009.
In January, Q-Free ASA acquires Building Capital Ltd, located in London, UK. Building Capital Ltd was founded in 2002 and attained high competence and extensive experience within the tolling industry. The company has references throughout Europe within Road User Charging general and in GNSS/GPS-based solutions in particular.
Q-Free picks up several major contracts. The major ones include the January signing by SkyToll of a €50 million contract with Q-Free for the delivery of the central and enforcement systems together with a three-year service agreement for GPS-based truck tolling system in the Slovak Republic. The project for Slovakia's electronic tolling system is unique by international standards as the state-of-the-art satellite tolling technology also covers, in addition to highways and expressways, large sections of other major routes.
In February, Q-Free signs a contract with Bangkok Expressway Company Ltd (BECL) for the modernization of an existing road tolling system in Thailand.
In August, Q-Free is awarded an AutoPASS contract by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA). The contract comprises delivery and installation of 10 fully automated toll stations in addition to an upgrade of existing toll stations surrounding Trondheim as well as service and maintenance. Q-Free also receives an order from the Spanish Company Grupo Ferrovial relating to its concessionaire in Portugal – Euroscut Norte, which is owned by the Spanish company Cintra. The contract is for conversion of the concession from shadow tolling into a fully operational Multi Lane Free Flow tolling system.
- 2009 January
Q-Free acquires Dacolian, a company developing software for Intelligent Transport System applications. The acquisition strengthens Q-Free’s position as a leading company within the road user charging market, and enables the offering of a broader range of solutions and competences as Dacolian also utilizes its solution for other applications such as travel time estimation, access control, law enforcement and surveillance.
Q-Free contracts to supply the transportation payment infrastructure for the Winter Olympics in Turin. In collaboration with GTT (Turin’s public transport company) and its partner Ativa, the Italian highway operator Sitaf devises a system called Si.Pass – Europe’s first integrated public and private transport system payable via one tolling method.
Q-Free ASA wins its largest-ever contract with IBM, to supply all tolling equipment to the Stockholm Congestion Tax System. In the last half of the year, the company manages to break into the Chilean tolling market with large contracts for its on-board units.
Q-Free ASA carries out an IPO and is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange on 3 April 2002.
Q-Free ASA acquires 53 percent of Noca Assembly AS.
Q-Free enters the Australian market and creates a new subsidiary company.
Q-Free enters the tolling market in Brazil with orders for tolling equipment to the state of Sao Paulo. Q-Free acquires Nera Mobildata’s ticketing division.
Micro Design AS changes its name to Q-Free AS. Q-Free enters the market in China and The Netherlands and expands into new business areas with the creation of two new divisions: Q-Free Access and Q-Free Ticketing. New subsidiaries are established in Malaysia and Brazil and a representative office in China is opened. Norway’s first installation of integrated smart card based ticketing is awarded to Q-Free’s Ticketing division.
The common European standard for electronic toll collection, based on 5.8GHz, is introduced. The world’s first automatic environmental charging system is installed in Austria using Q-Free equipment.
In 1995, Micro Design AS has its first international breakthrough. Its Q-Free system becomes the technology backbone of Portugal´s nationwide Via Verde RUC system. The Company also sets up a national office in Portugal. Over the course of the next four years, it moves into new European markets and worldwide into Malaysia, Australia and Brazil.
Micro Design AS achieves certification for ISO 9001:2000.
5.8GHz is proposed as the new standard in Europe for radio communications for tolling systems.
The Q-Free tolling system is installed in Oslo.
The first Q-Free tolling system is installed in Trondheim.
Micro Design’s first real breakthrough comes when it is awarded the contract with Statens Vegvesen (Norwegian Public Roads Administration) for the development of the ‘Q-Free’ tolling system.
The company is established under the name Micro Design AS.