What iBeacon Deployment Says About NFC

On December 5th, Apple deployed iBeacons (Bluetooth-powered stations) in 254 stores nationwide, creating a new shopping experience for its customers. When customers walk into Apple stores, their location can be detected by iBeacons which send location specific messages to iPhones or iPads.

To receive this service, customers need to have iOS7 on their devices and an app from the Apple Store with tracking permissions. Customers also need to have Bluetooth turned on since iBeacon transmitters use Bluetooth 4.0.

Bluetooth is a wireless connectivity technology that was invented in 1994. It consumes a lot of energy and drains cell phone batteries fast. Blue Low Energy (BLE) was introduced in 2006 and was merged into the Bluetooth core specification 4.0 in 2010. It consumes much less energy than the conventional Bluetooth. Apple deployed the technology recently with the new release of iOS7.

iOS7 enables iBeacon to communicate with iPhone and iPad through BLE. The successful deployment of iBeacon within 3 months of the iOS7 release demonstrates that vision can be realized when a plan is well thought out and executed. At the same time, iOS7 does seem to have a lot of problems and improvements need to be made.

In September 18th when Apple released iPhone 5S and 5C with BLE, the NFC ecosystem was anxious about the development since the large market share of Apple devices heavily impact technology adoption. The NFC ecosystem was hoping that Apple would adopt NFC and help to move the technology forward at a faster pace. Now, there are questions about whether NFC will ever be fully adopted since the iBeacon BLE technology was Apple’s choice.

Personally, I think BLE is a complimentary technology to NFC. The two do not have a mutually exclusive relationship. NFC is short range (4cm) wireless connectivity technology, and it can’t be tracked unless a tap happens. It works in different modes; active to active and active to passive. BLE can be tracked whenever you turn the Bluetooth on. It operates within 32 feet and it works in active to active mode. Both technologies can facilitate a more integrated consumer experience.  For more details, please reference my book “Everyday NFC: Near Field Communication Explained”.

NFC and Big Data

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless connectivity technology. The key word here is “connectivity”. It is not rocket science; it is similar to WIFI or Bluetooth, the technologies that we are familiar with and widely use. NFC enables devices within short proximity (4 cm) to connect with each other in order to exchange information. It also enables devices to read and write from/to NFC tags in order to retrieve or distribute data.

The term WIFI was used commercially in 2000. I remember that in 2002, I used three long Ethernet cables in order to connect  my home computers to the internet. The next year, I bought a WIFI router and started taking advantage of wireless connectivity. Nowadays, when we go to Starbucks, we connect our laptops to the WIFI network and start browsing the web within seconds. The hardware (wireless adapter) and user interface make the connectivity so easy that we don’t even think of the underlying mechanism.

Bluetooth specifications were developed in 1994 and many products are using the technology now. In the tele-healthcare industry, Bluetooth enabled medical devices provide significant value to the consumer. For example, a patient can take a blood pressure reading with a Bluetooth device at home and a nurse can remotely monitor the readings through a server.

NFC is based on RFID technology. The first RFID patent was granted in 1983. The NFC Forum was established in 2004. In 2006, the first NFC-enabled phone was released by Nokia. Today, most newly released smart phones are NFC enabled; they have an NFC chip inside the phone that communicates with NFC tags or other NFC enabled phones, consumers know very little about this capability because of lacking of education.

With your NFC enabled phone,  you can tap your phone with a new friend’s NFC phone and exchange contact information upon agreement. That’s the simplicity of connectivity. This kind of data exchange will add more data into the Big Data realm.

Big data is a hot topic nowadays. Enterprises want to leverage it in order to serve their customers or to develop customer desired products. Whatever we say, write, connect to or exchange with; structured or unstructured data all are part of the Big Data. With the broad usage of mobile devices, big data can be collected easily with or without our permission. When combined with Cloud computing, Big Data analysis can be performed easily and create tremendous impacts to the businesses.

AWS Summit NYC 2012, Werner Vogel’s keynote shared how a drug designer used computational chemistry algorithms with 21 Million compounds to develop a medication that would treat cancer. A Cloud platform shortened the process time and operational expense while dealing with big data analysis.

NFC, like any other connectivity enabler data traffic, will provide useful information for businesses and provide value for consumers. Any business that is thinking of capturing NFC data will be ahead of the game. I believe when consumers start to adopt NFC, it will become part of our life.