Mobile phone traffic data for territorial research

Opportunities and challenges for urban sensing and territorial fragilities analysis

Keywords: Mobile phone data, Urban studies, Territorial research, Territorial fragilities


Mobile phone tracking data collected by telecommunication companies allow recording and reconstructing the practices of mobilities and the presence of users with significant spatial-temporal detail. If properly managed, analysed, and possibly combined with other sources of information, mobile phone data can represent an interesting opportunity for urban research and mobility studies as they shed light on complex socio-territorial dynamics difficult to infer from conventional data analysis. At the same time, reports of numerous experiments using these sources reveal some of the challenges that researchers face in accurately capturing the behaviours of individuals through digital data and translating them into useful research knowledge. Referring both to the direct experience of managing and analysing mobile phone data within the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Politecnico di Milano and to the relevant literature, the paper proposes an overview of the potentialities and limitations of telephone data for urban research and their usability in different territorial contexts characterised by varying socio-spatial and demographic conditions. Besides positioning themselves within and enriching an already lively debate, the issues discussed here will be useful in reading the contributions of the special section that this paper introduces. 


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Author Biographies

Fabio Manfredini, Politecnico di Milano

He is the responsible of the “Mapping and Urban Data Lab” (MAUD), Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano. His main areas of expertise are methods and techniques of territorial and environmental analysis, geographical information systems, statistical and spatial analysis, mapping and data visualization. In the last years, he specialized in the use of novel data sources (mobile phone and social media data) for urban studies and for mobility mapping.

Giovanni Lanza, Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano

PhD in Urban Planning, he is post-doc Research Fellow at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano. His research focuses on the interplay between (im)mobility and accessibility and its implications for land use planning and policy. Besides his research activities, he is also teaching assistant at urban design and planning Master courses at Politecnico di Milano since 2018.

Francesco Curci, Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano

PhD, he is an Assistant Professor in Urban Planning at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano, where he is in the scientific coordination team of the project Department of Excellence on “Territorial Fragilities”. His research investigates recent urbanization processes with particular focus on housing informality, residential tourism, environmental risks and socio-spatial inequalities.


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How to Cite
ManfrediniF., LanzaG., & CurciF. (2022). Mobile phone traffic data for territorial research. TeMA - Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 9-23.
Mobile phone data for exploring spatio-temporal transformations in contemporary