Delegates at the hybrid workshop on "Use of mobile mobility data" organized by Uruguay's Communications Services Regulatory Unit (URSEC) and National Institute of Statistics (INE) in collaboration with the Global Partnership. Credit: INE-Uruguay

Privately held data, and especially data from Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), is widely recognised as holding great potential for National Statistical Offices, as highlighted by recent UNECE position statement on access to data held by the private sector for purposes of official statistics exploring both the opportunities and challenges. 

This type of data offers a cost-effective opportunity to complement routine data with more granular and timely information on spatial and temporal population characteristics like population density. It also helps statistical offices to address challenges around the cost of traditional data collection methods or the data gaps. Yet tapping into this non-traditional data source remains challenging for NSOs and sustainable partnerships around mobile phone data are rare. 

In 2021, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (the Global Partnership) supported Uruguay’s National Statistical Office, INE Uruguay, in developing a sound framework for unlocking long term access to MNO data. This was done through building knowledge of the dynamics of public private data sharing, strengthening capacity to collaborate with the private sector, and establishing strong partnerships with key national stakeholders. 

Unlocking the use of MNO data in Uruguay

Covid-19 has shown the importance of using timely, granular, and reliable data for tracking population movements in Uruguay, and has highlighted the relevance of Mobile Network Operators data as a complementary source for such mobility statistics. Since the beginning of the pandemic, INE Uruguay has worked with the state-owned Mobile Network Operator (ANTEL) to test the development of mobility statistics based on mobile data. 

This partnership has highlighted the importance of working with data from all the country's MNOs to obtain sound statistical estimates. The MNO market in Uruguay is divided between Antel (51.5% of the market), Claro (18%) and Movistar (30,5%), and so no operator has a sufficient market share to make its data statistically relevant on its own. 

Getting data from Antel was relatively simple—the state-owned operator is part of the National Statistical System (NSS) and ANTEL was already producing this information for the decision-making of the Ministry of Health (MSP) and the Emergency Management Agency (SINAE) during the pandemic. However, getting access to data from privately owned Claro and Movistar was an entirely different story as INE had limited experience in developing partnerships with private stakeholders and negotiating access to privately held data. 

Mapping the journey to standardized and sustainable MNO data access

INE was confronted with a number of difficult questions when considering how to approach MNOs:

  • How to navigate applicable laws allowing or preventing data sharing with MNOs?
  • What were the best ways to reach out to MNOs
  • What incentives could INE offer for collaboration?
  • What steps were needed for INE to be successful in accessing and using the data?

Our partnership is supporting INE in their journey to tackle these challenges and develop a sustainable approach for accessing privately held data through:

  1. Business Process Mapping (BPM): we launched a BPM to clarify the key steps needed for INE to access MNOs' data, who should be involved, what  resources were needed, and what the dependencies were between steps and skills required by the NSO. This methodology is a powerful technique for visualizing an end-to-end process and highlighting the activities, people, and skills required for improving an existing or initiating a new initiative. The BPM was also an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the Uruguay MNO market and think about possible incentives for collaboration. 
  2. Stakeholder engagement: through the BPM exercise, we identified a number of key internal and external stakeholders who needed to be included or associated with the initiative in order to make it sustainable and successful. According to INE’s Deputy Director General, Federico Segui, “understanding the business of the sector for which we want to implement the BPM was key during our stakeholder consultations, as usually each side is a bit ignorant of the other, leading to unrealistic or unclear expectations.” A first workshop was organized at the beginning of the project to gather governmental stakeholders, mainly potential users of INE’s statistics, and collect their views and needs. Bilateral meetings were also held with the pivotal stakeholders of the project, namely the mobile network operators and the Regulatory Unit of Communications Services (URSEC - Unidad Reguladora de Servicios de Comunicaciones). 
  3. Capacity building: we organized three learning activities for INE in the form of peer exchange workshops with sixteen other countries or peer to peer learning sessions. The exchange with INE Spain allowed INE Uruguay to benefit from lessons learnt on methodology from the European Statistical Office over several years of work with European MNOs.

An enabling framework for successful private-public data sharing in Uruguay

These activities have helped to lay a solid foundation for successful private-public data sharing partnerships between INE Uruguay and private-sector data producers, such as MNOs. 

The Business Process Mapping generated a clear visualization of what the steps are needed for INE to access and process privately held data, which can also be reused to work with other types of data, such as from retailers or financial institutions. It also identified a list of incentives for collaboration that INE could offer to the MNOs.

Type of incentive


Market share computation

INE could supply MNOs with monthly estimates of the market share based on the aggregation of the data from all the MNOs. 

Marketing activities design

INE could provide aggregated estimates of the number of people per location at a given date in order for MNOs to know their market better and, for instance, activate promotions. 

Geo-referenced data maps

INE could support/train MNOs data scientists on how to combine mapping tools with their own indicators and create geographic representations.

Indicators mapping

INE could support MNOs on how to combine clients’ information with statistics produced by INE (i.e., household survey) for better market analysis.

Specific training in applied statistics

INE could develop and deliver specific statistical training for MNO data scientists applied to mobile data analysis.

Help desk for analytical support

INE could set up a direct line of support for statistics and analytics questions that MNOs might face.

These incentives build on an innovative “reciprocity model,” which is very promising in the context of private public-data sharing. This model assumes that both MNOs and INE can benefit from data sharing and that, while INE gets access to the data, the MNOs can in return gain access to relevant services, training, improvements to the data, or new and useful statistics.

The BPM enabled INE to identify incentives to work with the private sector and gave us valuable insights into the working of the telecommunications sector. While it was focused on cellular data for now, we aim to generalize it to use it to incorporate data from other private sources. From now on, we intend to tailor the BPM according to different private data sources, e.g., credit card transaction data.

—Federico Segui, Deputy Director General, INE

Stakeholder engagement activities led to INE and URSEC signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) focused on this work around data sharing. This MoU is incredibly important to root access to MNO data in an institutionally and will serve as the basis for all future data sharing activities between INE, URSEC and the MNOs. 

As the president of URSEC recently said, “MNO data is particularly valuable for Uruguay and URSEC is committed to work with INE on establishing sound mechanisms for data sharing”. INE and URSEC organized a joint workshop in May 2022 to present the initiatives to the MNOs and hear from other countries and from private stakeholders about their data sharing experiences. 

Finally, INE has gained lots of knowledge and confidence in the area of private public data sharing. Federico Segui’s recent presentation at the UNSD World Data Forum Webinar on accessing privately held data and the interest raised by INE’s work on reciprocity models of incentives attest to this increased expertize. In late 2022, Montevideo will also be the setting for a high level cross-regional conference of effective data sharing, which will showcase the many experiences from Latin America and Africa in terms of privately-held data sharing, and build an appetite for more. 

This initiative has put the spotlight on Uruguay as a country where innovative solutions and approaches for sustainable private-public data sharing are being developed and tested. All this groundwork promises to bear fruits in the next two years of the project. As Federico Segui reflects: “this is just the beginning of the journey. INE is committed to play an increasingly important role as data stewards for privately held data for mobility and tourism statistics in Uruguay''.