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INI at 25: Alumnus Researches the Social Influences on the Telecom Industry

December 22, 2014

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Some INI graduates choose to deepen their studies by pursuing a path leading to a Ph.D. In 2009, alumnus Qiwei Han decided to do research at Carnegie Mellon's Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) after earning the INI's Athens Master of Science in Information Networking (Athens MSIN). Five years later, as a Ph.D. candidate, he credited the INI as an important step that prepared him to advance his studies and to broaden his perspective on the economics and policies of information networks.

"The courses and thesis that I did at the INI prepared me to advance to the EPP Ph.D. study as it requires strong interdisciplinary thinking," Qiwei said. "For example, the courses I took through the Athens MSIN with Professors Jon Peha and Marvin Sirbu, who are EPP faculty members, opened the door for me for the first time."

Qiwei completed his INI master's degree at Athens Information Technology (AIT) in Greece. At AIT, he took Carnegie Mellon courses from faculty in person, in addition to connecting to Carnegie Mellon faculty in Pittsburgh through video-conferencing technologies. Professors would visit from Pittsburgh to teach classes and meet with students in person. Also, some of his classmates became lifelong friends with whom he continues to stay in touch.

"As you know, friendship always thrives when you tirelessly struggle together in order to survive the team projects," joked Qiwei.

Currently, he is in his fifth year as a dual degree Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Lisbon in Portugal. As a result of the dual degree program structure, Qiwei, who is a native of Xinjiang, China, has been alternating his time between Pittsburgh and Lisbon so that he can work with two advisors.

His research focus is on the impact of social influence on consumer behavior in large-scale information and communication networks. He and other researchers collaborate with several major telecom service providers that grant them access to detailed data sets on consumer behavior. They dive into the terabytes of data to explore the social factors that influence consumer decisions and, ultimately, affect the business and policy decisions of the telecom industry.

"We face significant challenges when dealing with such truly 'big data' problems but we manage to provide interesting insights and policy implications," Qiwei said.

For example, "The Role of Peer Influence in Churn in Wireless Networks" was a recent paper Qiwei co-authored with his faculty advisor Pedro Ferreira, an assistant professor in information systems for EPP and Heinz College. The paper explored a common problem for wireless carriers called subscriber churn, which is the rate at which customers leave a wireless carrier for other competitors over a period of time. The paper described the influence of peers on customers and then suggested the use of retention strategies to prevent churn and group churn.

The paper was very well received. He and his co-author received the award for best paper at the Academy of Science and Engineering's 7th International Conference on Social Computing (SocialCom). The conference is considered highly selective and a premier outlet for research in the social context.

Qiwei is on track to graduate next year with the rare achievement of earning one Ph.D. from the U.S. and one from Europe. While one measure of his success could be the impact his research makes on telecom service providers, Qiwei showed that his heart is in the work, as the saying goes at Carnegie Mellon. The "best paper" award, he reported, has been one of his proudest moments yet.

Pictured above:  Qiwei Han spoke at a panel about US-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh, April 2012.

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Qiwei Han's story is part of the alumni highlight series honoring the INI's 25th anniversary. Follow hashtag #ini25 during the 2014/2015 academic year and join the celebration April 18 during Spring Carnival weekend.