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Open Mic Mobile Data & Privacy

Forget the cookie – mobile network data provides next level consumer insight

By Alex Petrie, Co-founder



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November 18, 2022 | 8 min read

As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into Data & Privacy, Alex Petrie, (co-founder, Skyrise) looks at what mobile network data is, how it’s collected and why it can give advertisers a privacy-first way to reach their audience.

Mobile data networks

f you’re not using data direct from mobile networks, you really should consider what it can do

If you’re not reading this article on a smartphone, one will almost certainly be within touching distance while you are. We have phones on us all of the time. Smartphones are an essential part of everyday life. Whether it’s shopping, streaming, gaming or social networking, it’s all increasingly done on data-hungry mobiles. According to Ofcom, use of mobile data increased some 25% last year, with the average person now using 5GB a month.

While ‘mobile’ or ‘location’ data using third-party cookies and MAIDs are rightly being phased out, data direct from mobile networks can help you understand more about your customers. If you’re not using it, you really should consider what it can do.

What is mobile network data?

Mobile network data (also called “telco” or cellular” data) is the distribution of digital data through mobile networks. It’s usually to a nearby cell tower or satellite that allows you to visit websites and use apps on your smartphone (or tablet), while you’re not on WiFi.

What is the big advantage of mobile network data?

Most advertisers have access to existing reservoirs of data. These typically contain lots of information on things like demographics, sometimes context, and - if it’s first party data - it will be more accurate with subscriptions, activities, content and spending patterns. Mobile network data is still way ahead in terms of the breadth and depth of the data. It’s also much more reliable and better quality. This is because the network operators’ role as the connection provider grants them access to information continuously and accurately, given that they have 24/7 connection. A mobile network needs to know where you are to route calls and data to you within the area of the nearest mobile network cell.

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Mobile network data has been used for a number of years in town planning and to inform transport infrastructure projects, and it is now being adapted to inform media planning. The data is ripe for advertising. It is rich, dynamic, supremely updated and based on billions of data points from millions of phone users. Crucially it is also aggregated and anonymized before it is used for advertising, so it is suitable for use in the privacy-first era.

While most people have at least one virtual identity, email or online account with web-based service providers, we typically only have one mobile account. Mobile networks therefore have a mass pool of subscriber data that makes them more knowledgeable on any local market, surpassing rival players who have a more constricted view of a particular market, limited by the sporadic subscriptions, intermittent access and huge variances (especially global services) in subscription and consumption patterns.

Breadth and depth of data

Mobile network data is inherently one of the best data sources on which to build audience insights, as they gather some of the most vital micro and macro statistics. Broadly we can categorize these into four classes of information:

Always-on data

Your mobile signal is invariably always on providing a continuous connectivity to the source of activity. This allows network operators to understand micro level information, including real-time data on user location, activity and navigation information. This data can then be analyzed to macro level market analytics or audience insights covering patterns of activities, consumption and lifestyles.

Contract data

Mobile network providers have comprehensive, accurate and reliable subscriber information as there is a legal requirement for true identities for registration and subscription plans. They can also infer a user’s economic status via spending, package types and device information.

Usage data

Using the Deep Packet Inspection and similar technology, mobile networks are able to access subscriber level content consumption. This includes the type of apps used, websites visited and the types of transactions conducted. They also have information on choice of retailers, banks, online payment facilities, utility companies and digital services providers to decipher social and economic ecosystems including their brand choices.

Historic data

In addition to having real-time information, mobile network data can look to the past. This provides rich insight into data that was captured continuously over 12 months ago. This allows trends analysis and understanding long term patterns.

The data will get richer in the connected world

The extension of mobiles to all other intelligent devices in the internet-of–things (IOT) will see more useful data flow through the system as appliances, wearables, health devices, thermometers, and smart cars start transmitting signals to the network. This could be transactional data such as food ordered via a smart fridge, or contextual data from a smart heating system. As the connection provider, mobile operators will be receiving the information from these devices, creating a rich, real-time database that deciphers the situations and conditions in various localities.

Turning mobile network data into actionable insights

Raw mobile network data itself won't give you audience insights. It needs to be carefully filtered, temporally analyzed, processed, mapped, expanded, anonymized and aggregated. When it’s processed this way, mobile network data insights can be used to tackle complex advertising challenges.

You’ll almost certainly have to access the data via a third-party. Mobile networks typically only work with a handful of carefully selected partners such as Skyrise who help advertisers understand and reach customers using one holistic data set based on 20 million people.

Mobile network data can be a game changer in a privacy-first world. Advertisers want to target audiences based on real people and network data allows advertisers to understand real world segments that engage with their brand or their competitors. The data is dynamic and constantly updating. Is your marketing keeping up?

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