Speaking at a public forum during Arendal Week—a huge annual political event in Norway attended by government organizations and media—group CEO Sigve Brekke said that Telenor said it will develop this expertise in its home market and the rest of Scandinavia first, before turning to its additional markets in Europe and Asia. Telenor demonstrated that it was able to use information from its mobile network to calculate a 20 percent rise in the population of the town of Arendal in the first few hours of Arendal Week.
Brekke said Telenor was already working on a range of “exciting” applications for mobile data with its research partners, public authorities and commercial firms, adding that the information can be used for planning transportation, providing better medical treatment and social services, and for setting up tailored travel facilities.
Big Data is indeed one of the most “exciting” frontiers in the mobile sphere today. As data-mining techniques become more powerful and sophisticated, operators have a golden opportunity to enhance their role and to avoid the dreaded commodity status for their services.
Telenor and its partners are evidently creating a product that will go well beyond the simple aggregation of customers’ mobile data, into a realm where the information is customized and tailored to a variety of advanced purposes. As an example, the operator demonstrated the ability to predict temporary population changes based on prior user behavior. This application could be of use to public-sector and private-sector entities alike. While the other uses mentioned by Telenor group CEO Brekke would also be useful in both sectors, they could generally be characterized as being of a public-service nature, or at least beneficial to the public at large.
However, as is well known, Big Data has many uses in the business community that are primarily or entirely profit-oriented. These involve various methods of supplying anonymized aggregate user data to commercial entities to be used for targeted advertising campaigns and for marketing purposes. These types of applications promise the most revenue to the operators that can collect the data, and even more to those that, like Telenor, will be able to sift and package the data in the most effective ways.
One thing that operators should bear in mind as they explore and develop Big Data is that they risk losing public confidence and even customer loyalty and customer numbers if they are perceived to be playing fast and loose with privacy concerns and profiting from an indifference to such concerns. The deployment of public-spirited or public-oriented Big Data applications such as those discussed at Arendal Week will go a long way toward improving customer relations on the subject. But, in addition, operators will have to be sure to provide their subscribers with maximum transparency about data sharing and also to educate them about the nature of the endeavor in general, if they want to truly profit from this emerging field.
Of course it should be noted that Telenor stands to profit from its Big Data initiative beyond deriving revenue from direct sale of the data, because it appears that it intends to eventually sell its data gathering and processing services in markets where it does not itself operate mobile networks.
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