Telefónica, the parent company of mobile operator O2, has created a business unit called Dynamic Insights, devoted to selling off the data created by its customers.
The first product from the Telefónica Dynamic Insights unit, announced on Tuesday, is called Smart Steps. It involves anonymising and aggregating mobile network data so that companies and public sector organisations can use it to evaluate the number of people visiting their stores and venues.
The example given by Telefónica is that of a town council, which might want to know how many more people are visiting a high street after free parking is introduced.
Telefónica is not going to work alone on the initiative: the Spanish telco has signed a strategic partnership with market research firm GfK to develop products in the UK, Germany and Brazil.
"Big data is one of the key building blocks of the digital economy. Approached in a smart and responsible way it has the potential to transform every part of business and society — providing economic growth and improving people's lives," Telefónica Digital chief commercial officer Stephen Shurrock said in a statement.
'Big data', a field that was until recently known as 'analytics', is in many ways a natural field for large telcos to get into. Such companies constantly monitor where their customers are, and the resulting datasets are ideal for such things as measuring traffic flow.
Indeed, that is one of the products that the new business unit is planning, as part of its 'Smart City' services. Fraud protection provides another use case.
However, telcos have largely ceded control of the applications that run on their customers' phones to Apple, Google and those companies' developer ecosystems. This limits the data the telcos can collect to rough location data, and provides one explanation for their keenness to avoid being mere 'dumb pipes'.
Telefónica does have other tricks up its sleeve, though. The company has many fixed-line customers and even free public hotspots, so it can potentially draw on Wi-Fi data and perhaps information gathered through its TV services.
The company also noted in its statement that it can play with the vast amounts of machine-to-machine (M2M) data it gathers through corporate customers, although it did not provide any suggestion of how it intended to exploit this resource.