A report by Imperial College London has been published today, for which O2 made a valuable contribution by providing anonymised and aggregated data insights. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been open about the fact we are fully engaged in helping in the fight against Covid-19, offering support to those working tirelessly to map and control the spread in the UK.  Data insights we share never allow identification or mapping of individuals, and operate within strict privacy guidelines.  The Information Commission Office (ICO) has even issued a statement in support of this activity. But our mobile technology has been extremely beneficial for this report which we wanted to explore in this blog.

Within O2’s Business division, we have a team working on our O2 Motion service, and they have been working with the researchers at Imperial College to understand this data and look at how it can add value to the UK’s effort in tackling the pandemic.

What is O2 Motion?

O2 Motion is a service that uses anonymised and aggregated data created by the mobile phone network to offer insight into movement trends across the UK. As mobile devices connect to different masts, they create data footprints which we then anonymise, aggregate and extrapolate in order to gain a picture of how people are travelling, when they make journeys and which areas they visit.

O2 Motion is based on connection data between a device and the phone mast only. We do not collect GPS data, and the service isn’t used for ‘contact tracing’ (this requires more precise, individual level location data or Bluetooth connection data).  Instead, the anonymised and aggregated data generated between devices and masts is used to give an up-to-date picture on how movement trends are developing, right across the UK.
In the past such data would have been collected using household surveys, like the 2011 Census, or by conducting roadside interviews, or surveys on public transport. These surveys are often expensive to organise and data often takes a long time to be processed, anonymised and converted into insight.

What has the data shown?

During the Covid-19 outbreak, the trend data created by O2 Motion has given an invaluable insight into how people have been moving during the lockdown and reacting to government advice. This chart shows the total number of trips observed on each day in March 2020:











As the chart shows, travel decreased following the government advice to work from home, but it was only after the advice changed to ‘you must stay at home’ on March 23 that there was a dramatic decrease in travel.

As well as looking at trends for the whole of the UK, O2 Motion’s anonymised and aggregated data can be used to understand how travel varies in different regions:






















This map shows the percentage drop in travel across key regions following the advice to work from home, but prior to a full ‘stay at home’ message. Urban areas like London show a significant decrease (orange in the map) while rural areas show a much smaller drop in travel (green). Travel in Northern Ireland was down more than in the rest of the UK, possibly due to the decision to close schools earlier there.

What next?

We are continuing to support central government, and as life begins to return to a ‘new normal’ – and as O2 plays its part in rebuilding Britain – we are also in discussions with train operating companies, regional transport bodies, retailers and tourism operators to help them plan the reopening of their services. This includes providing information on visitor volumes to retail hotspots, and on ‘peak times’ at train stations to help aid social distancing.

As society continues to adjust to the pandemic, it’s clear that the impact will be long lasting and widespread. We will continue to play our part in helping the national effort to fight the disease by providing insight, help and support where it matters most.

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on:
press@virginmediao2.co.uk 01753 565656
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