Telecoms services alone will not be enough to keep operators in business; they must also tap into the new revenue streams opened up by big data, one industry expert proclaimed on Tuesday.

"Network operators will…all become big data companies or go out of business," Oxford university professor Viktor Mayer-Schonberger said in a keynote address at CommunicAsia 2014 in Singapore.

For example, the knowledge that certain weather conditions affect the signal strength from a mobile tower and the associated data collected enabled one operator in the Netherlands to "go into the business of [weather] forecasting," he explained. That telco, T-Mobile, has more data than the national weather service, he added.

New businesses like this change the perception of telecoms operators' network infrastructure.

"If you see a cell tower, you're wrong," Mayer-Schonberger. "[It's a] data gathering platform."

But for companies to reap the full benefits of big data, individuals must be comfortable with the amount and type of personal data they are sharing and they must trust the companies who are using their information. And that, according to the professor, requires fundamental policy change.

The world needs a data protection framework that balances use with accountability, he explained.

"[We should] focus on how data is being used rather than how it is being collected," he said.

In response to a question about new data protection laws in Singapore, Mayer-Schonberger warned that the country is "putting in place something that is old-fashioned and outdated." And Singapore is not alone in that.

"All of Europe is outdated. Canada is outdated. Most of the OECD countries are outdated," he said.

If data protection rules only allow a company to collect data for a specific purpose, where the individual agrees to that purpose without even reading the terms and conditions they are clicking 'OK' to, "we basically emasculate big data", Mayer-Schonberger said. Instead, regulations should allow the reuse of data, but in a way individuals can trust.

"This requires a policy shift," Mayer-Schonberger stated, noting that he is involved in policy-changing efforts in the U.S. and Europe. "Hopefully in the next five years or so we'll see some results."