Advertisement is one of the most important medium of doing business these days. Retailers want their information related to discounts, new arrivals, what’s in stock and similar messages to reach their potential customers as soon as possible and with little effort and budget.
Let’s consider an example of a multi-brand fashion accessories shop in a shopping mall. Every day, they offer discounts on different items and some new arrivals. Now, the shop owner has to display this information daily outside the store or in some location inside the shopping mall. The store can also publish ads in the local newspaper or look at other ways to reach their potential customers in nearby areas.
To solve this retail environment problem, two technologies can help. One is LTE broadcast (eMBMS), and other is beacons which is a micro location based technology that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Bluetooth Smart based on 4.0+ Bluetooth specification (such as Eddystone and iBeacon). Although both are based on very different fundamentals and are quite different in base technologies, one can still set-up advertisements for a retail environment with these technologies. We will discuss the retail environment use case using both technologies in this article.
So, our targeted problem area is for the following cases:
- Indoor Navigation (useful in hospitals, shopping malls, universities, business centers, etc.)
- Proximity marketing (retail shops, etc.)
Let’s discuss some potential use cases to help understand the gaps that new technologies have the potential to solve. The following are just examples and actual use cases may be more.
Example 1: In shopping malls, a technology can help in the following use cases.
- A personalized welcome message
- As user passing by a shop, and all information related to that shop being available to him/her on the mobile app
- User can ‘search’ for a particular store in a large shopping mall and get directions to the store as well
Example 2: In hospitals, a technology can help in the below ways:
- Past patient records
- Doctor’s availability status
- Information about all facilities inside the hospital such as labs and their timings
- Doctor’s appointment status
Let’s start the discussion with beacons. These technologies are available in the market for quite some time. Apple introduced iBeacon in 2013 but Google joined the ranks in 2015. Beacons are basically a small device which can be mounted on a wall and it starts to work as soon as any mobile comes within close proximity and can share information with preinstalled mobile applications.
The basic modus operandi of beacons are as follows:
- A beacon is installed outside and inside a retail shop which has a range of around 50 meters
- A beacon starts transmitting unique signals using BLE
- A user passing by the shop
- Beacon detects that a user is nearby and sends this information to a centralized beacon server
- Beacon server sends information to the user using a preinstalled beacon app on his/her smartphone
- User receives a message through a Beacon app
- Information from Beacon server can be a discount coupon, list of new arrivals, etc.
- User can take an informed decision on whether he/she wants to visit the store or not
A large-scale deployment scenario could be a shopping mall or a hospital, where an area of less than 50 meters is covered by an army of beacons. All the beacons are centrally connected to a server, which controls the beacons for diagnostics and also is the main source of information for beacons. All business logic and information should be derived from a beacon server itself.
Beacons can be very useful in several other use cases also. There are several very good beacons available in the market, namely iBeacon from Apple and Google Eddystone. Google launched a cross-platform, open source Eddystone beacon last year to target the above-mentioned use cases. More or less, both these beacons target and provide same facilities, but Eddystone has an edge over iBeacon. We will discuss Eddystone here in more details.
The features of Eddystone are as follows:
- Unidirectional communication
- Supports multiple frame types – variety of payload which beacons can send
- Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) – a 128 bit Beacon ID which is universal and broadcasted by every beacon
- URLs – beacons can push a URL which can be open in a web browser to share lot more details
- Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs) – for more secure transmission
- Telemetry Data – to manage vast fleet of beacons and have diagnostic data
- Supports in Google’s ecosystem like Maps, etc.
In short, beacons can provide the following benefits:
- Personalized user experience
- Low cost
- Beacon owner can develop his own customer engagement strategy and change it dynamically
- Automated check-ins to Facebook and Twitter
Some cons for beacons could be:
- Bluetooth is not always on in mobiles
- Specific mobile applications need to be installed by user
- Less coverage (<50m)
The main drawback of beacons is that several mobile applications need to be installed to get that unique experience. Not a single application can provide the same experience in all the cases due to coverage issue. Here comes LTE broadcasting or eMBMS to the rescue.
With the efficient use of spectrum, LTE broadcasting is lately driving content broadcasting to the masses in one go. It provides a good solution to the problems where same information needs to be delivered to many users at the same time. LTE broadcasting is useful in push advertisement like providing details of ongoing offers in a retail shop. That too, along with normal unicast services.
eMBMS works on the principal of MBSFN Area that is logical division of a geographical area to provide more efficient services in that area. So, with the help of eMBMS, we can do broadcasting in and around a local retail shop location. Thus, in one go, a retail store can reach to everyone in the vicinity.
eMBMS can provide the below functionalities which make it even more attractive:
- Unicast and broadcasting simultaneously from same eNodeB
- Improved spectrum utilization
- Dynamically enable and disable broadcasting services based on needs of the operator and runtime situations
- Improved coverage and cell edge performance
eMBMS along with Proximity Services feature (introduced in 3GPP release 12) can provide enhanced unique experience to users along with efficient use of available resources and also within a large coverage area. ProSe (as part of Device-to-Device feature of 3GPP Release 12) can help in providing a range of other services as well (apart from push advertisement use case) based on first discovery and then broadcast information for Public Transport etc.
The main drawback here is that eMBMS is still in the trial phase and other features like ProSe and D2D are still in development stages or with minimum real environment trials. But its future seems bright.
In the coming days, common users can expect more personalized experience at low cost and little effort.
Altran is a leader in the LTE market and has been a part of leading IoT Integration capabilities. Altran has ready LTE eNodeB Stacks supporting M2AP protocol. Altran has a proven base platform too, thereby reducing the time-to-market of the final solution.