Wireless operators have long had valuable customer data at their fingertips, but they are just now starting to explore what that data can do for them and their customers.
The new way of thinking is based on the fact that the more an end customer uses services on an operator’s networks, the more data points the operator can collect and use for a new breed of services that can be deployed flexibly and monetized rapidly.
A recent University of Birmingham study hosted by Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) highlighted the value of some of the ever-increasing amounts of data accumulated during the regular use of a mobile phone. By using sample user data from across a wireless network, researchers were able to predict where a user would be heading over the next 24 hours to within 20 meters. This data included ordinary location updates and call logs, which were layered and analyzed with similar data from the relationships that were established by the call log.
Imagine the opportunities if all this data was used as a real-time platform for creating services. The types of services this data can enable — everything from law enforcement apps to location-based advertising and payment apps — are truly groundbreaking and can make today’s average mobile app appear frivolous.
Take a simple example from day-to-day life: Your spouse asks you to pick up your child, who is staying over at a friend’s house. Instead of running the risk of forgetting, you could set up a reminder based on a calculation of the time it takes to get there — live traffic is also carrier data, after all. Your spouse could also see or be preemptively notified by a choice of voice, SMS, MMS, or push notifications when you will be arriving with updates in real-time. Using an operator-powered app, your spouse could set this up the night before simply by adding the notice to your calendar app that supports this functionality.
If the app environment has showed us anything, it’s that the mobile phone is an always-present companion. If you allow services to be created uniquely for it, the result is a highly successful and profitable app store for its enabler, whether that be Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) or Google(Nasdaq: GOOG) or the wireless operators.
The weakness of the current phone-based app environment is the need to program individual applications for specific operating systems and the need for the application to be activated for use. If a developer wants to create a passive application that runs in the background without requiring the user to launch it or provide input, it burdens the battery and the network.
The carriers face no such burdens. Wireless network data is already constantly monitoring the mobile devices. If the data were used in real-time, it could power a new generation of easily created, cloud-based, contextually aware applications.
As luck would have it, the technologies and resources to deploy these types of services are already in widespread use in various divisions of the carriers and their landline siblings. For example, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has AT&T Interactive, which is all about ad targeting, and AT&T Labs, where analytics are a core competency.
Roadblocks to data divinity
However, more can be done. One thing holding back innovation around contextual apps is the wireless operators’ focus on optimizing the radio requirements, rather than putting them to work in new ways. If they factored data collection and storage into the network’s design, the new data they would collect would be even more valuable and useful.
The second factor stopping carriers from allowing this to happen is a reluctance to share this data, due to privacy and regulatory concerns. But a tight and granular set of opt-in controls can actually improve the privacy factor significantly over today’s extremely limited uses.
The opportunities for carrier apps that use their last-mile knowledge are immense. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and viewing mobile devices solely as a burden to be managed, carriers ought to join the fray and view the devices as an opportunity to create an extremely positive and profitable relationship with their customers.