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MWC 2017: Global mobile operators to use big data for social good

The GSMA has launched the Big Data For Social Good initiative, drawing together the big data capabilities of mobile network operators to address humanitarian crises around the world

The GSMA – the mobile trade association that runs the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona – has announced a new initiative to exploit the big data capabilities of mobile network operators (MNOs) to address humanitarian crises such as epidemics and natural disasters.

The Big Data for Social Good programme has enlisted 16 MNOs, including the likes of Deutsche Telekom in Germany, NTT Docomo in Japan, SK Telecom in South Korea, O2 and Three parents Telefónica and Hutchison, the UK’s Vodafone, and others from countries around the world. In total, partners of the initiative account for two billion mobile connections in more than 100 countries.

“A year ago, the mobile industry became the first sector as a whole to commit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, as outlined in our Mobile Industry Impact Report published in September, we are already affecting all 17 Goals to varying degrees,” said GSMA director general Mats Granryd.

“We are now focused on amplifying and accelerating our industry’s impact in achieving the SDGs, and the initiative that we are announcing today will contribute greatly in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing humanity: epidemics and natural disasters.”

The United Nations Foundation will also play a supporting role to coordinate and integrate with the broader ecosystem, which includes organsations such as the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the Digital Impact Alliance.

UN Foundation president and CEO Kathy Calvin said: “Better use of the data generated from digital technology has the potential to accelerate work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals to save more lives, empower more women and create a more inclusive digital society.”

Through the Big Data for Social Good programme, members will provide new insights based on anonymised meta-data generated across their networks to support responses to critical situations. A good example of such a situation would be monitoring the flow of devices away from a war zone to allow public health organisations to respond more effectively to target relief efforts and prevent disease spreading among refugees.

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The GSMA said 1.8 billion people had been affected by some kind of disaster in the past 10 years, and economic losses due to disasters amounted to $1.5tn between 2003 and 2013.

Programme trials focusing on epidemics will take place later this year in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Myanmar and Thailand.

This multi-operator pilot will look at ways to use network data to develop common capabilities to monitor, alert, predict and manage the spread of disease. The trial participants will use common data feeds and algorithms to provide insight into human movement patterns, enriching this information with third-party data sources such as hospital admissions, death counts and weather data. This will allow local and international governments, and relief agencies, to make decisions on what to deploy and when. The results of the trial will be revealed at the next MWC event in 2018.

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