The notion of an operator or application provider monetising mobile location data for analytical purposes (beyond just providing its core service offering) has been spoken about for a long time. Although there are examples of activity across a number of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and mobile app services, it is still relatively immature in terms of demonstrating significant commercial success.

As recently as last week, the industry group TM Forum, published a report on Monetising Telco Customer Data - so it is clearly still very much a significant interest area.

There are various valid reasons why this has yet to set the world alight, but it is our belief that its primarily down to three things:

  • A desire to not breach privacy requirements, which can themselves be considered a grey area and interpreted differently by nations and organisations
  • The cost associated with the technical infrastructure needed to manage, manipulate, anonymise and analyse very large volumes of high velocity data is restrictive. Often the business case for investment doesn’t show a positive return - at least not in a timely enough manner
  • Businesses do not want to disrupt their core business by offering customer data to organisations that their customers have a negative sentiment towards. In this manner it is more about preserving the brand their customer’s signed up to in the first place

We have previously blogged about privacy and similar Open Data cost challenges so we thought we’d write here about how a socially responsible exchange of value in a proposition can start to address privacy and brand challenges and hopefully make the adoption of these ideas less challenging.

Mobile Location Data

It’s worth us quickly differentiating the two different data sources mentioned at the head of this article; mobile apps and the mobile network, as they offer very different skews of data. For example, a mobile app on a smart phone can usually produce a highly accurate position of that individual device and therefore the person carrying it. This data is generally used as a core feature of the application itself. Take a fitness app like Strava or Runkeeper, or navigational apps such as what3words, Citymapper and Google maps - all of which use the collection of your precise location to offer their key function back to you.

By contrast, a mobile network operator knows where your phone is in relation to its own network at any one time, as ultimately it needs to know where to direct the services you have subscribed to. The difference however is that rather than using GPS positioning for highly accurate locations, the operator knows which radio cell (mast) your device is connected to. This gives an approximate location defined by the area covered by that cell. If your device is moving, then they would also know the previous cell that “handed over” the device as it moved.The accuracy then depends on how large that cell’s coverage area is and in reality these can range between 5 metres to 10’s of kilometres.

Socially-Beneficial Use Cases

So aside from enabling core services, can this same data be persisted and successfully used responsibly for use cases that offer tangible benefits to society?

The answer is clearly yes, if appropriate thought and sensitivity is applied to the solution. Popular apps like Strava, through their product Strava Metro, provide activity data on their ‘athletes’ in an aggregated but still highly usable form. They offer this to organisations that will use it to enhance the lives of the same people who generated, the users. For example, numerous city transportation organisations and academic institutions across the world have been provided a richer view of cyclist population behaviours in order to enable cycling strategies to be implemented more effectively. Therefore cyclists themselves contribute to more appropriate and safer cycling infrastructure being implemented, whilst also ensuring that their individual profile is never exposed to third parties. In this way Strava Metro ensures that privacy and security constraints are met and that the ethos of the company and its users is not compromised, thus protecting its core business model.

Mobile operators too have become aware that aggregated forms of network location data can start to empower other use cases without alienating their customer base who might be adverse to such data being used for less beneficial purposes. Tier 1 European operators such as Telefonica, EE, SFR, Deutsche Telecom and Vodafone have begun working with various entities in public transportation and transport planning to enable the analysis of how populations move and interact with transport routes and hubs. Specifically this will allow the transport organisations responsible for their operation to have a much clearer and consistent view of how to ensure their services operate effectively and meet customer demand. By pursuing these types of more socially beneficial use cases, like Strava, operators are protecting and promoting their core brand.

Duty of Care

Duty of Care

We at Emu are committed to the responsible use of mobile derived location data, and to demonstrate this we are just about to launch a product targeted at this area. The product, Duty of Care, enables a mobile operator to provide an employee location risk management offering to their enterprise customers all derived from real-time high-volume network data. If you’d like to see it in action, we will be demoing it at Mobile World Congress 2016. It’s running on both the Vodafone stand (Hall 6, Stand 6B30) and the EMC stand (Hall 3, Stand 3K10)…and we are getting pretty excited about it!

You can read more about the service it offers here.

If you aren’t going to MWC but would still like to hear more then by all means contact us via email.