Time for NFC to pack its bags, iBeacon is here to stay

Posted by | January 06, 2014 | General | No Comments
iBeacon connects
06-01-2014 | LabWerk | Veronique Berens

Remember that scene from Minority Report, where Tom Cruise walks through a futuristic shopping mall and personalized advertisement is thrown at him by various billboards? Researchers have been working on similar technology for years and it is no longer something envisioned for the far future… this is now! Apple has recently introduced their ‘iBeacon’, a technology using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which enables a ‘beacon’ to (micro-) locate mobile devices with reliable accuracy and transmit small amounts of data between the beacon and a mobile device. The possible applications of this technology seem endless…
Our mobile phones are rapidly becoming more sophisticated. Just half a decade ago we could only use them to make phone calls or send text messages, now they control large parts of our lives. We can take photos, maintain our calendars, listen to music, surf the web, watch movies, etc. and all of this we can easily share with our peers over email or on Facebook. The average smartphone user is said to spend approximately two hours per day on their device. And why wouldn’t we, if it is even possible to pay for our shopping with our mobile phone nowadays.

Wireless payment is made possible by the development of “micro-location” systems, such as NFC (Near Field Communication). Working wirelessly over ranges of ideally < 4 cm, this technology allows for two-way communication between end-points and it can confidently identify users from a small NFC-enabled credit card in their device. During a payment transaction, for example, the register establishes a radio communication with your mobile device, which in return responds with your payment data in code. If only NFC could do more than this…

Location-Based Services (LBS) have probably been the most interesting and rapidly emerging trend over the past 5 years. Even our parents know how to “check-in” and shoot “selfies” at the airport and when we are looking for a restaurant we make sure to check ‘Foursquare’ and see what our friends recommend in our area. Now imagine taking this a step further. Not checking in, but being recognised when walking into your favourite store and being informed about the ‘offer of the day’ without having to search for it. Lucky for us Apple recognised this opportunity and introduced iBeacon!


With the launch of iOS 7 Apple has moved away from NFC technology (there is no NFC-enabled card in the iPhone 5s) and entered the world of possibilities with iBeacon. Here are the technical facts why iBeacon promises to beat NFC in the near future:

  • Range: There is no need for devices to touch – whereas NFC works best within a range of < 4 cm or when devices practically touch each other, iBeacons can work up to a 50m range. Apps can be activated or payments can be made while keeping your phone in your pocket!
  • Implementation: Nearly all new mobile devices are BLE-enabled and are therefore compatible with iBeacon. This means no extra costs for the consumer to adopt this new technology. On the other hand not all phones have NFC-enabled chips built in, being a significant entry barrier for the consumer.
  • Capacity: BLE can handle much more bandwidth than an NFC interaction, permitting iBeacons to have more sophisticated interactions. Moreover this new variant of Bluetooth is capable of running on much lower energy levels than ever before. It can run for a significant period of time and with the ‘zero battery energy harvesting technology’ it promises to use less battery than NFC.

The possibilities are endless

The technical benefits that iBeacon has over NFC are an interesting development and disruption to wireless payment as we currently know it; however the extended range and bandwidth allow for many more sophisticated interactions between iBeacons and mobile devices. iBeacon has the prospect to enhance customer experience as well as provide valuable data to business owners. The possibilities are endless and probably far beyond our imagination. Today companies like ‘LabWerk’ are already working on things such as:

  • A personalised welcome when entering a store, restaurant, museum, etc.
  • Receiving ‘offers of the day’ or offers on recently purchased items on your phone when entering your favourite store or restaurant.
  • In-store (navigation) guidance based on your shopping list, shopping history and offers.
  • Additional information on products or things of interest, like videos, details of the artist, related products/works, etc.
  • Summarising quantitative location data on customer visits – which isles are mostly visited, what is the redemption rate on promotional offers, etc.
  • Crowd control by monitoring where people are currently located and sending new arrivals to different parts of your store/area.

Whilst there is still some scepticism to be tackled about ‘offer spamming’, ‘consumer privacy’, and ‘security breach’, an increasing number of people and companies seem to recognise the endless number of possibilities that iBeacon technology has to offer. Whether we will all be starring in the next Minority Report is now in the hands of business owners, who need to reap the benefits of what this new technology has to offer and develop their own user applications.