Telefonica Germany is part of a pilot project to calculate the quality of air with the help of mobile data. The research project is funded by Low Carbon City Lab (LoCaL), an EU program by Climate-KIC. It is being launched in Nuremberg and will be expanded to other cities in future. Mobile data can be used to determine traffic flows and, by extension, levels of pollution. This data is generated automatically, when mobile devices communicate with the cells of Telefonica Germany while making calls, browsing or sending texts. As a result, the sample of data is larger than those obtained by manual measurements, and also is less expensive. Customer data remains fully protected during this process, and all references to individuals are removed. On behalf of Telefonica, Teralytics converts this data to flows of movement using their specifically developed algorithm in Telefonica’s data centers, from which South Pole Group derives the extent of pollution. By means of comparison, the pilot project uses existing data on the city’s quality of air. This data is derived from measuring stations, weather data as well as traffic data from traffic censuses. Equipped with these results, the municipality of Nuremberg plans to enact anti-emissions measures in the most affected areas.
In this age of declining ARPU from traditional mobile services, including data, operators are constantly looking for innovative ways to use their network assets and transcend the “dumb pipe” role. Most of these are intended to be revenue generators, of course. However, there are some ways to creatively diversify that do not directly produce revenue but nonetheless benefit the operator. This environmental partnership initiative involving Telefonica Germany is an example. Without incurring extra expense, Telefonica can piggyback traffic-flow monitoring on its subscribers’ everyday data use, thus providing access to valuable information that could not otherwise be obtained in such large quantities. By doing so, the operator stands to boost its image as a company concerned about public welfare, and thereby strengthen its brand and potentially increase retention and even help with customer acquisition. And while participation in this EU program almost certainly will not result in payment, we can imagine that other, similar uses of data to anonymously harvest large amounts of measurement information could be monetized within the private sector.