AI for Impact : Mobile Big Data Analytics to combat challenges including COVID-19

Using Mobile Big Data Analytics to combat global challenges including COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the globe, it’s becoming clear that few can avoid its reach, posing severe challenges to health services and having a range of related social and economic impacts. As governments try to protect lives whilst maintaining economic viability, they are seeking innovative and dynamic solutions to make the right decisions at the right time, particularly in developing countries, which are expected to be disproportionately impacted. This is where insights from mobile data can come into play.

How can mobile data be used to provide insights in the context of COVID-19?

Beyond providing connectivity and other traditional services, mobile operators are in a unique position to add value, with many having developed capabilities using aggregated and anonymised mobile data. When combined with in-depth knowledge of their networks, operators can add significant value to the data they generate by applying advanced analytics and AI to create actionable insights. And then leveraging these insights to create relevant tools, for example in the form of reports, applications, visualisations or more sophisticated decision support systems, that allow recipients to act to deliver real world impact.

The GSMA’s AI for Impact (AI4I) initiative is advocating the value and impact these solutions can have. First established in 2017, AI4I has supported the mobile industry to develop scalable approaches that enable products and services leveraging mobile big data analytics and AI to be adopted sustainably across the world. It is supported by a Global Taskforce of 21 mobile operators, accounting for over 2 billion connections in over 100 countries, alongside an Advisory Panel of 12 UN agencies and partners that share learnings and experiences. These learnings and experiences have been evaluated and combined to develop the AI4I digital toolkit. This toolkit contains guidelines for mobile operators and demand side actors including governments and humanitarian agencies. It highlights the key considerations for the development of successful decision support systems and tools that respect and protect individuals’ privacy.

Pre-COVID-19, mobile operators had been applying their mobile data analytics and AI capabilities across a range of use cases, including epidemics, climate change and disaster preparedness. Case study examples of these can be found in the AI4I Digital Toolkit. However, since the emergence of COVID-19, operators have been building on these earlier foundations and have invested to fast-track the development of tools and insights relevant for this pandemic, for example to:

  • Inform epidemiological models to reveal how the disease is spreading by helping to identify transmission hotspots
  • Evaluate the right time to implement or reduce social distancing measures
  • Monitor the impact of policies and directives on actual behaviour
  • Provide insight into the cost-benefit analysis of measures and the associated impact on the economy

Further information on COVID-19 specific response using mobile data can be found in the recently published paper The role of AI4I in the fight against COVID-19,

How are mobile operators already responding to the COVID-19 pandemic globally using mobile big data analytics and AI?

Operators are fully focused on ensuring connectivity, to keep people connected to their friends, loved ones, workplaces, and critical sources of health and emergency information. They are further supporting with different services, such as the dissemination of health information, the provision of telemedicine solutions, as well as tools for remote learning and working. In addition to these actions, several operators are also working with national authorities to leverage their mobile data and AI capabilities.

Examples include:

  • Telenor in Norway working with the National Institute of Public Health
  • Vodafone in Italy working with regional authorities and the Civil Protection Agency
  • Orange in France working with INSERM
  • Telia is providing insights on trips within the Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland)
  • In Mexico City antenna data from Telcel, AT&T and Movistar is reportedly being used
  • In Ghana, Vodafone is providing data used to develop mobility indicators for the Ghana Statistical Service
  • In Spain, all three operators, Orange, Vodafone and Telefonica, are providing data to the National Statistics Office (INE).

These examples demonstrate an increasing awareness within governments of how mobile data analytics could help monitor and limit the spread of the disease, and inform decisions.

If there is value to be realised from using mobile big data insights, why are solutions not more prevalent?

Despite the above examples, mobile big data analytics and AI are still new areas for many governments. The limited awareness and demand expressed to date, implies there is also more knowledge to be built amongst governments of what is required to develop and deliver this capability.

The reality is the above examples are only possible because those operators have made a significant investment in infrastructure, analytics and expert personnel, integrating a comprehensive understanding of their network infrastructure and operations. But to make full use of these tools and insights, the end-customers – in these examples, governments – equally need to have relevant personnel with expertise and capacity, processes and systems in place, to fully leverage, integrate and implement the findings.

What conditions are required for the provision and use of mobile data analytics to combat challenges, including COVID-19?

Drawing upon the experience gained from working with the Task Force and Advisory Panel, AI4I has identified 3 key areas for consideration, if mobile data insights are to inform and enhance response capacity in a country, across a range of use cases, including COVID-19. These areas are:

  • Policy and privacy – focus on the creation of an enabling environment that protects and respects the privacy of users, establishing trust and accountability between all parties;
  • Technical delivery and adoption – for mobile operators, focus on the development of the infrastructure and knowledge for the generation of analytics and tools. For governments, focus on the development of capacity to implement and integrate insights into decision making processes;
  • Funding and sustainability – all parties must from the outset focus on sustainable business models that support the realisation of mobile data solutions to address issues in the long-term.


Where can I learn more about these key areas?

Over the coming weeks, AI4I will be publishing a series of blogs and hosting webinars on the theme ‘Using mobile big data analytics to combat challenges including COVID-19’, one on each of the key areas indicated above. The webinars will provide a platform for a deeper level of understanding for operators and governments who wish to develop and adopt impactful products and services to aid decision making.

The AI4I webinar series started by providing a high-level introduction to the core topic areas, the first of the series can be found here.

To register your interest and receive an invitation to the next session in the webinar series, please email [email protected]