By analyzing billions of phone calls, researchers at Scandinavian telecom company Telenor, mapped how social connections between people – measured partly by how often they called each other – correlated with the spread of Apple's iPhone after its 2007 debut.

The diagram above shows the evolution of the largest network of Telenor iPhone users over time. Each node represents one subscriber, and its color indicates the model used. In this case, red equals 2G, green means 3G, and yellow means 3GS.

Researchers learned that its owners helped spread the iPhone virus spread rapidly throughout their social network. A person with just one iPhone-carrying friend was three times more likely to own one themselves than a person whose friends had no iPhones. People with two friends who had iPhones were more than five times as likely to have sprung for the Apple device. Apparently the iPhone virus was highly contagious.

Its pattern differed from the way other devices and services rippled through the customer base. For instance, other Telenor products, including the Doro, a simple handset generally marketed at the elderly, did not exhibit the same kind of network effects. Neither did a video-calling feature introduced by Telenor in 2007, which grew in popularity at first but suffered after a new pricing model was introduced.

Each time you make a cell-phone call, your network provider knows whom you're calling, for how long, and what device you're using. Cell-phone networks have some of the best data for developing targeted marketing campaigns.

"They have clean, relevant data because people don't make calls to just anyone," says Cristophe Van den Bulte, an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who uses social-network analysis to study the diffusion of products, in an interview with Techreview. "Other network connections can be close to meaningless – for example, my relationships with my Facebook friends."

Telenor's team now wants to translate insights like that into marketing campaigns. For instance, a company might send promotional text messages or ads to people whose friends already use a product – and who would presumably be more likely to buy the product as well.

Privacy regulations could be an obstacle still. The Telenor data had to be "anonymized," or stripped of identifying information, before the researchers where allowed to use it.

Via Techreview. Research Paper: Product adoption networks and their growth in a large mobile phone network (to be published at IEEE Advances in Social Network analysis and Mining, 2010)

Enjoying this story? Show it to us!


Share your thoughts and join the technology debate!


  • Francine Puliafico

    Posted on

  • well dude T hope u enjoy the virus on ur iphone have a VIRUS DAY

    Posted on

  • T

    Screw you a-hole! I tried to view this and it infected my iphone!! EVERYONE - GET OFF THIS PAGE RIGHT AWAY!! It will install a virus on your iphone! If you are reading this, exit the page immediately!

    Posted on

More like this