As mobile base stations now cover 90% of the world’s population, in this era of rising concern about global warming, why not use this existing infrastructure to monitor in real-time and in detail what is actually happening with the environment?

That is what NTT DOCOMO is considering in Japan. It is planning to begin a trial over the next few months that will involve the installation of 360 sensors on base stations with a view to a full-scale deployment from 2010 onwards. Japan’s largest mobile operator envisages installing sensors (powered by solar energy, of course) measuring pollen counts, ultra-violet light, temperature and rainfall on base stations.

The data from these sensors will be stored on a DOCOMO server and will then be available to organisations, ranging from meteorological stations to Google, looking to provide highly-localised environmental information to consumers and businesses. Hay fever sufferers, for example, would likely welcome a mobile app that tells them the current pollen count in their immediate vicinity.

Of course, installing environmental sensors on tens of thousands of base stations will not be a trivial or inexpensive task. Even so, depending on what DOCOMO will charge third-parties for the environmental data, this network of sensors could eventually become a profit centre for the operator. If DOCOMO installs sensors on every base station it has, it will have an extraordinarily comprehensive environmental monitoring system that would be difficult for companies from other sectors to match.

What do you think? Should mobile operators diversify into monitoring the environment?