Tracking urban human activity from mobile phone calling patterns

PLoS Comput Biol. 2017 Nov 21;13(11):e1005824. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005824. eCollection 2017 Nov.


Timings of human activities are marked by circadian clocks which in turn are entrained to different environmental signals. In an urban environment the presence of artificial lighting and various social cues tend to disrupt the natural entrainment with the sunlight. However, it is not completely understood to what extent this is the case. Here we exploit the large-scale data analysis techniques to study the mobile phone calling activity of people in large cities to infer the dynamics of urban daily rhythms. From the calling patterns of about 1,000,000 users spread over different cities but lying inside the same time-zone, we show that the onset and termination of the calling activity synchronizes with the east-west progression of the sun. We also find that the onset and termination of the calling activity of users follows a yearly dynamics, varying across seasons, and that its timings are entrained to solar midnight. Furthermore, we show that the average mid-sleep time of people living in urban areas depends on the age and gender of each cohort as a result of biological and social factors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms
  • Cell Phone*
  • Circadian Clocks
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cities
  • Data Collection
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Human Activities*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Lighting
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement*
  • Probability
  • Seasons
  • Sleep
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by Project COSDYN, Academy of Finland (Project No. 276439); EU HORIZON 2020 FET Open RIA project (IBSEN) No. 662725; CONACYT, Mexico, Grant No. 383907; and European Research Council for the Advanced Investigator Grant No. 295663. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.