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The operator SIM is a treasure trove of information about a subscriber. Now, Telefonica is using this insight to make messaging even smarter.

MEF Minute features editor, Tim Green talked to James Lasbrey, global head of messaging at Telefónica and others about how the leading mobile operator is making use of the data that it’s sitting on for MEF’s free Future of Messaging Guide.

A mobile operator knows a lot about its customers just by analysing their behaviour on the network. Some of this is obvious – location, browsing habits and so on. But it’s been revealed that operators can even tell when people are bored. In 2015, researchers at Telefonica developed an algorithm to reveal boredom.

In a project called “When Attention is not Scarce – Detecting Boredom from Mobile Usage”, they looked at the time duration since the subscriber last had a call or text, the time of day, and even things like scrolling. A series of speedy swipes through a Facebook page was indicative of restlessness, for example.

The researchers concluded that this algorithm could predict boredom up to 83 per cent of the time. They tested this by sending users a link to an article on BuzzFeed. They found that more people clicked through from a ‘bored’ sample than a control group.

So what? Well, Telefonica is now considering how to build this functionality into a wider offering for its enterprise customers. In theory any brand could send existing customers a well-timed alert at periods of ‘peak boredom’ for better engagement.

For Telefonica, this is just one quirky example of a drive to make more of its network assets – and thereby give more value back to corporate messaging users.

Indeed, in late 2016 it launched LUCA, a dedicated Big Data services unit, just for this purpose.

“Data is a critical asset for the future of Telefónica… and we want to help our clients understand its full potential,” said Chema Alonso, chief data officer of Telefónica. “We strongly believe it will help our clients in decision making, more efficient resource management and in returning the benefits of this wealth of information not only to their clients and direct users, but also to society.”

“We’re hitting an inflexion point now in terms of one-to-many business messaging. The potential is huge, and with the addition of big data to make messages more targeted and smart, I think we’ll see some fantastic new use cases very soon.”

Crime stopper

Relieving boredom may be at the lighter end of big data problem-solving. But elsewhere, Telefonica is already tackling much more serious issues such as combating crime. In fact, it is already using its data assets in the UK and Peru to help banks detect fraudulent activity.

The platform uses network usage data to help banks verify they are sending messages with sensitive financial content to the right person at the right time.

Using these insights, Telefonica can disclose if that request has come from a recently acquired SIM, for example, which may indicate criminality.
When in roam

Similarly, Telefonica can detect when a phone is overseas and alert the bank. This means it will not be necessary for the customer to make a call to have purchases approved. “The challenge for financial institutions is to avoid scams and frauds in the use of credit cards, both in the physical and virtual worlds. The goal is to provide the customer with a secure, seamless and integrated experience, “says Ethel Bazán, manager of Big Data at Telefónica Grandes Empresas.

Wider verticals

In time, Telefonica will apply its network insights to messaging across other verticals. It believes the idea has applications in insurance, marketing and healthcare and could help with services like travel alerts and credit scoring. Naturally, all activity will require user consent.

Interesting that this big data push by Telefonica centres on a decades-old medium like SMS. But as has been said many times before, text is universal and doesn’t require data access. Typically, 90 per cent of texts are read in minutes.


Indeed, Telefonica says the market for enterprise SMS has doubled in the last two years. It believes its plans to use of network insight will accelerate this growth.

James Lasbrey, global head of messaging at Telefónica, says: “We’re hitting an inflexion point now in terms of on-to-many business messaging. The potential is huge, and with the addition of big data to make messages more targeted and smart, I think we’ll see some fantastic new use cases very soon.”

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The guide features over 25 cross-sector case studies and exclusive interviews that examine the power of messaging in all its forms from the humble SMS and chat apps to emerging platforms and explores what’s next for messaging.

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