How Mobile Operators are Mining Big Data

August 23, 2012
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Mobile phone operators have long mined details on voice and data transactions to measure service quality, place cellular towers in optimal locations and even respond to tariff and rate disputes among various carriers.  But, there’s a lot more that is now mined from mobile data. Let’s take a look at what lies beneath.

Mobile phone operators have long mined details on voice and data transactions to measure service quality, place cellular towers in optimal locations and even respond to tariff and rate disputes among various carriers.  But, there’s a lot more that is now mined from mobile data. Let’s take a look at what lies beneath.

Call detail records (CDR) for mobile transactions are particularly interesting for analysis purposes.  According to a Wikipedia entry, CDRs are chock full of useful data for carriers including phone numbers for originator and call receiver, start time, duration, route, call type (voice, SMS, data) among other nuggets. It’s not unusual for mobile operators to mine 100 terabytes (TB) and up databases to optimize networks, strategically position service personnel, perform customer service requests and more.

And carriers are also starting to discover value in performing social network analysis (SNA) in relational databases and MapReduce/Hadoop platforms to analyze social/relationship connections, find influencers, and –if directed by government authorities—even perform crime syndication tracking or terrorist network monitoring.

While the types of analysis listed above are becoming commonplace, there is a lot more mobile phone operators are learning from “Big Data” analysis of everything they’re capturing.

Financial Times writer Gillian Tett explores some of these innovative approaches in a recent article (registration required). Tett notes that with mobile phone subscribers topping out at 2.5 billion subscribers in emerging markets alone, that mobile carriers, behavioral scientists and governments are learning more about “people’s movements, habits, and ideas.”

For example, Tett cites the 2010 Haitian earthquake where aid workers alongside researchers were able to “track Sim cards inside Haitians’ mobile phones.”  This in turn helped relief agencies analyze where populations dispersed and helped route food and medicine to where it was needed most.

Analyst firm IDC notes that smartphone sales are flying out the door at the tune of 400 million a quarter. With the rise of smartphones, there are also more mapping and location based applications online too. In fact, when billing, use, location, social networks, much less content accessed and more come into view, there will be little left to the imagination to complete a picture of who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re doing, and where you’re predicted to go next.

These types of rich information will be accessed for customer, corporate and societal benefit. However, there’s also ripe potential for mis-use. The key questions are – is this much ado about nothing, or a data collection spree with an unhappy ending?