Viewpoint: Is BLE the Next Important Innovation in Mobile Technology?
In the past few years, the proliferation of mobile devices has led to the introduction of new technologies aimed at making consumers’ lives more convenient. Most recently, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) has received a notable amount of media coverage as the next important innovation in mobile technology. Most new smartphones purchased in the last year are BLE-enabled and, according to ABI Research, nearly 19 billion BLE-enabled smartphones will have been shipped globally by 2018.
Although BLE originally was intended for use in the health care, fitness, security and home entertainment industries, application developers also are looking at it for geolocation and other functions in stadium, retail, restaurant, transit
|The future of BLE is not yet clear, as there are still questions that need to be worked out relating to security and how BLE and its related applications can fit with current merchant infrastructure and systems.|
and other applications. But, with any newly introduced technology, there are questions and sometimes misconceptions. Here are some of the most common questions I hear with regard to BLE:
1. What exactly is BLE? BLE is a wireless technology that enables the transmission of data to a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled device that’s within range. Products that use BLE technology include accessories for smartphones, health devices, watches and proximity beacons, which can communicate with and transmit data (such as a welcome message, offers or coupons) to BLE-enabled devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
BLE beacons are a prominent use of the technology today. Beacons are used in physical retail settings to offer a variety of new opportunities for consumer interaction. In comparison with “classic” Bluetooth, BLE requires considerably less power and incurs lower costs, while providing a similar or larger communication range. These benefits enable merchants to efficiently and effectively engage consumers to provide: targeted promotions and information, reducing the cost of marketing and customer service; a more positive customer engagement, enabling consumers to receive the content they want at the place and time they’re most likely to act on it; and the opportunity for merchants to capture and analyze data on consumer behavior, enabling them to adjust the physical environment accordingly. These advantages and incentives all rely on knowing consumers and their current locations. The use of proximity beacons is an important part of contextual awareness, especially indoors.
2. Is BLE taking the place of NFC? Though some consider near field communications (NFC) and BLE to be competing technologies, they actually can complement each other. For example, BLE can supply value-added services, such as offers and discounts to a consumer’s NFC-enabled phone, and then the consumer can use NFC to redeem that offer at a retail POS. NFC is also the best choice for secure mobile contactless payments. When NFC with a secure element is used for payment, the transaction uses standard payments application security, including dynamic cryptograms and security codes that leverage the current contactless payment infrastructure. NFC is also the appropriate technology when the consumer is expected to make a conscious decision to “tap” for information (e.g., to opt-in to offers or to get information specific to a product).
3. Are there security concerns with BLE? As with any developing technology, security concerns do exist. While there are a variety of security methodologies available to tailor security levels to the needs of the application, the nature of BLE with its long-distance pairing creates opportunities for tracking individuals, eavesdropping on transactions, spoofing beacons and monitoring behavior. Consumers will need to be educated about the characteristics of these technologies and the implications of their opt-in choices, and application developers will have to be vigilant in applying security strategies and technologies appropriate to their applications.
4. What’s an example of BLE in use? Some professional and college sports teams are looking to technology to make the trip to the park or stadium a more enjoyable event and are turning to BLE for help. Major League Baseball, for one, is creating micro-locations throughout stadiums, providing consumers with a streamlined and more automated experience. For example, when consumers approach the stadium, they can use BLE to activate the appropriate app and display a ticket. Because of BLE, the app can recognize a first-time user and provide a guide with information specific to the stadium. After entering the gate, the app can display a map to show the ticketholder’s seats, the restroom and concession stands.
Just as in a retail setting, BLE and NFC together can enable stadiums to offer their customers an individualized experience. These facilities can leverage NFC to speed up payments and BLE to monitor patron movement before, during and after an event to analyze traffic and the interest of people in exhibits or particular parts of the facility.
The future of BLE is not yet clear, as there are still questions that need to be worked out relating to security and how BLE and its related applications can fit with current merchant infrastructure and systems. It’s definitely a technology to watch, though, because it has potential to enhance marketing and consumer engagement and can complement other technologies like NFC.
Randy Vanderhoof has been the executive director of the Smart Card Alliance since 2002. The multi-industry trade association works to stimulate the understanding, adoption, use and widespread application of smart card technology. Randy can be reached at [email protected]. This article has been summarized and excerpted from a Smart Card Alliance white paper, “BLE 101: A Technology Primer with Example Use Cases,” which can be downloaded for free here.