For close to two years, Data Ventures’ high quality, hourly population estimate data has been helping organisations better understand the movement of people in New Zealand.

As part of our on-going improvements, we are excited to announce the next population model (version 6) we have developed which means an even more relevant estimate of population for our clients.

What is population density data used for?

The population density data, based on anonymised mobile location data in partnership with Spark and Vodafone, aids decision making by giving organisations unmatched insights into people’s mobility and their patterns of behaviour, such as what time of day locations are busy or not.

This information can be used for any number of critical government services. It also assists infrastructure and supply chain decisions for both public and private sector. Some examples of existing uses are to help the Government assess risk levels of a COVID-19 community outbreak and for Tourism New Zealand to better understand domestic visitor behaviour.

The nature of hourly data allows organisations to see pattern changes in areas such as CBDs to help understand changes in population and behaviour, such as the mobility of individuals. You can read a past report created using this data here:

How does Data Ventures create such a unique dataset?

Our data partners, Spark and Vodafone, provide hourly estimates of mobile phone devices at cell tower locations across New Zealand. These estimates are provided either as aggregated device counts, or as anonymised records of device locations.

We then use our expertise to convert the cell tower location estimates from each provider into the number of devices in each Statistical Area 2 (SA2). SA2s are areas whose boundaries are defined by Stats NZ. In a city area there’s typically 2000–4000 residents per SA2, while for the regions it’s from 1000–3000 residents. In total, there are around 2,200 of these areas in New Zealand.

The mobile device counts from both providers are combined to give an overall device count. We then segment the devices as representing international visitors, domestic visitors, and local residents using a combination of SIM card and location information.

The population estimate is then determined by matching the device count with other data sets also relating to population. This also means we can account for people without phones and people with several phones.

By understanding population in each SA2 every hour we can give organisations an extensive and precise image of how people move in the suburbs which matter to them.

Crucially, people’s privacy is guaranteed throughout this whole process. The data we receive is completely anonymised and relates to broad areas rather than specific locations. We have worked with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to review our process.

What’s so great about the new and improved population estimates?

The new update will significantly enhance the accuracy and the reliability of our population estimates by achieving the following:

  • Higher confidence and accuracy in population estimates, thanks to higher quality streams of data from telecommunications providers — utilising improvements due to 5G network upgrades.
  • Improved accuracy in population estimates in areas bordering water such as lakes and oceans.
  • Greater accuracy for estimating international visitor numbers based on a revised international visitor definition.
  • Enhanced measurement of domestic visitors within an SA2. This means the data can more clearly show peaks and troughs over a given time period, useful for understanding the numbers of domestic visitors attending events such as festivals.
A comparison of population data between models, highlighting the improvement of international and domestic population estimates in the latest (V6) model.

A comparison of population data between models, highlighting the improvement of international and domestic population estimates in the latest (V6) model.

Who’s it for?

The updated population model will become available to everyone who is already using our population data tool.

If you’re not using our data already but think you too could benefit by more intimately understanding how New Zealanders live and move, then this update could be your next edge for making better decisions.

Get in touch with us at

NOTE: This article was updated in March 2022 to correct technical details of the input datasets.



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