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Life after COVID: how big data and location insights can help to ease lockdowns

05 May 2020
Image-David González

David González

Head of Big Data and Advanced Analytics
Vodafone Business

Today an estimated 3 billion people are currently under some form of lockdown worldwide, a phenomenon that is having enormous societal and economic impact.

National governments do not take these steps lightly. On a daily basis, they need to know if these measures are working, how long they should continue for and if they’re being respected.

In this climate, the potential of anonymised location data has become clearer than ever. Studying how populations move has already proven to help combat infectious diseases in Africa, and almost everyone carries a device capable of contributing to the fight against COVID.

That is why we now offer big data services and the Vodafone Analytics platform to governments in Italy, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Greece among others.

These tools can help governments understand the impact of lockdown measures through mobile phone movements, with the aim of helping them to ease restrictions safely.

What makes this data so useful?

Anonymised location insights can help governments compare how population mobility, both by foot and by vehicle, has changed since lockdown measures were introduced.

Using susceptible-exposed-infected-recovered (SEIR) modelling methods, experts run simulations to calculate how the virus spreads. This uses mobility data to display virus movement geographically, allowing researchers to compare these patterns against the rate of transmission across stratified samples, such as age groups.

The importance of this data places companies like Vodafone Business as a key partner, especially with our pan-European presence and advanced big data capabilities.

Vodafone Analytics was already live in several European markets prior to the pandemic, helping customers such as JLL to plan the location of new commercial properties.

This existing infrastructure meant that we could quickly adapt to the needs of national governments and offer our support.

Predicting an end to lockdown measures

We have also been collaborating with the University of Southampton to create modelling scenarios that can help governments to understand what might happen when they ease restrictions.

These models can be configured to see how countries might be impacted by several variables, such as lifting lockdown measures on a particular date.

Location insights services can help on many fronts, but let me highlight these three in particular:

  1. Understand mobility within cities.
  2. Understand mobility between provinces or regions.
  3. Understand the adoption of lockdown measures overall.

The platform has also previously helped the tourism industry and may do so again in future as we see controls relax on non-essential travel. However, for now we know that this is not a priority.

All collaboration with governments has two clear objectives; to help them protect citizens and to make informed decisions that will eventually allow societies to return to normal.

Demo 2 thumbnail
Human mobility in the tourist hot-spots of Southern Spain, powered by Carto.

Always protecting individual privacy

Customer privacy is of paramount importance to Vodafone and we have a robust privacy by design process in place across all data sets.

Vodafone Analytics data is designed to produce anonymised and aggregated outputs. Any individual identifiers are scrubbed and randomised so that it cannot be traced back to any individual or device.

The aim of these analytics is not about identifying a person or people; it’s about understanding population movement as a concept, with a statistically accepted error margin.

It is this concept than can help in the fight against COVID.

With a global presence, Vodafone Business is in a very fortunate position and it is our responsibility to help where we can.

My team are tired but energised - never before has their work been so critical to the world or as widely recognised. We’re proud of what we’ve already achieved and excited by the difference it makes.

The hope is that this data can help governments to overcome COVID and allow our families, friends and co-workers to return to normal.

You can read more about how the correct use of telco data could help in this crisis here.

Find out how Vodafone Analytics can be used by businesses across different industries here.

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