Researchers Suggest Way to Track Population Density by Using Mobile Network Data

Population density and distribution is a key variable in designing strategies or assessing the impacts of existing environmental or social policies. Normally, decision makers obtain this data from national institutes for statistics or other local authorities. However, this data is often inaccurate and out-of-date, and therefore also unreliable.

In an attempt to discover a better way to gather data on population density, the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), in collaboration with researchers from AIT, realized that mobile network data could be a better source for such data, as it could be obtained almost immediately and would be more accurate and up-to-date. Accessing this data, though, is complicated by the existing legislation on commercial confidentiality and personal privacy.

In a new report prepared by the JRC and AIT, researchers present and analyse a methodology that could enable mobile network operators to process and integrate different types of network data, which is already in their possession, in order to estimate population density. The methodology has been designed to be flexible and scalable, taking into consideration commercial sensitivity and the need to protect personal privacy and confidentiality. The report also presents the findings discovered when testing the methodology on a sample of artificially generated data.

The JRC and AIT will now seek to gather feedback from interested parties on the proposed methodology, which will then be tested with partner mobile network operators. Subsequently, a dialogue with all willing operators around Europe will be initiated.