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May 10, 2017

Big data for social good: How Telenor is using big data to tackle big problems

By Geoffrey S. Canright, Kenth Engø-Monsen and Sidsela Nyebak

17 May is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day with the theme “Big Data for Big Impact.” ITU and our members are exploring how Big Data can help solve the world’s biggest challenges.

In the quest to find sustainable long-term solutions to social challenges, Telenor Group’s vision to empower societies is an ambition to create shared value for society and the company. And we believe that telecom’s big data can be used tangibly to help society – and we see that there are many ways that big data can be used for social good.

There are many forces wanting the big corporations that collect data to start using that data to solve the societal challenges we face – issues and problems that can only be solved through cooperation between the private and public sector. We believe that mobile operators can do more of this, and we simply must do more!

Examples from Pakistan and Bangladesh

Telenor has been working with Big Data for Social Good for several years now. We have developed an experience and knowledge base that we can build on in the future. We also have gained a sense of optimism — that we can, working with others, apply telecom data and insight to make a positive difference on big societal problems.

Telenor Group has experience in using Telenor’s big data in privacy-conscientious ways. One example is through helping society in understanding how human mobility impacts the spread of dengue fever in Pakistan. For this study, we took great care to make sure all data was anonymized and aggregated before doing any analysis.

The outcome of the processing is the creation of ‘heat maps’ that help the authorities better predict the outbreak of dengue in Pakistan.

Another example is the study of mobile network data from Bangladesh that described important short-term features (hours, weeks) of human mobility during and after extreme weather events – in this case, Cyclone Mahasen, in May 2013 – which are extremely hard to quantify using standard survey-based research.

The study demonstrated how mobile data, for the first time, has allowed us to study the relationship between fundamental parameters of migration patterns on a national scale. The methodological framework described provides an important addition to current methods in studies of human migration and climate change.

Partnering to use Big Data better

As we received feedback on our dengue study in Pakistan, one point turned up again and again: we should look at the spread of multiple-drug-resistant (MDR) malaria. A new, dangerous MDR strain first appeared in Cambodia, and has since spread to several other Asian countries — including two countries (Myanmar and Thailand) where Telenor is presently operating. It is regarded as one of the most urgent epidemiological problems on a global scale — and Telenor has the experience, the partners, and the geographical footprint necessary to make an impact by studying this problem.

Motivated by this, Telenor is working to get the foundation in place for a three-country study of the spread of MDR malaria — in Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. We are meeting with health ministries, telecom regulators, the relevant Telenor business units, and our research partners, to get all the pieces in place for a cross-border study of this disease strain. We know that millions of lives are at stake here, and are working hard to ensure that Telenor will make a positive impact.

Three key words in this picture are “working with others.”

Every project that we undertake can only deliver value if we can build a strong coalition of academic, telecom, and governmental partners.

This is particularly clear when we consider taking any proof-of-concept results—such as our dengue and cyclone studies—and moving them into full-scale, regular implementation in the affected countries. Again: working with (many) others, we in telecom can and will make a difference.

Geoffrey S. Canright
Research Fellow, Telenor Research
Kenth Engø-Monsen
Senior Research Scientist, Telenor Research
Sidsela Nyebak
Director Social Responsibility, Telenor Group Sustainability

Don’t Forget! Tune in to our live webcast of an expert #WTISD panel discussing Big Data for Big Impact on 17 May – more information here.

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Big data for social good: How Telenor is using big data to tackle big problems

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