NFC and Beacons

Now that some manufacturers have started including NFC in beacons, our customers have started asking about the differences between Beacons and NFC and why NFC is being included.

In proximity detection terms you can think of NFC as being an extension of ‘very near’ in iOS’s ‘near’, ‘far’ and ‘intermediate’ proximity classifications. The range is in the order of cm rather than m. In most applications a ‘near’ beacon or higher value RSSI on Android can perform a similar function as NFC. However, NFC can be made more secure in that it can provide for secure proximity detection in scenarios such as payments. So why have NFC in beacons?

NFC within the context of iBeacons can be used as a complementary technology. For example:

Enhanced Interaction: NFC could be used to provide immediate, zero-setup interaction with an iBeacon for configuration purposes or to trigger specific actions when a user intentionally brings their device close to the beacon. This can be particularly useful in situations where BLE interactions might require more steps or user permissions.

Security and Authentication: NFC’s short range can be advantageous for secure interactions. In scenarios where an iBeacon provides location-based services, NFC could add an additional layer of security by ensuring that certain actions (e.g., payments, access control) are only triggered when the user is very close to the beacon.

Information Retrieval: For cases where iBeacons signify users about something of interest nearby, an NFC tag could provide additional, detailed information or a direct action (like opening a website or downloading an app) without the need for the user to navigate through menus or apps. This could be especially useful in museums, exhibitions, or retail settings where quick information access enhances the visitor experience.

While NFC and iBeacons serve different primary functions, integrating both can lead to innovative applications that leverage the strengths of each technology for enhanced user experiences, particularly in proximity-based interactions and services.

Beacons on Cruise Ships

There’s a new in-depth article at PC Mag on how Carnival use beacons, based on Bluetooth and NFC, on cruise ships. As the article says, “it provides an excellent case study in how to use technology to enhance your customer’s experience”.

The beacons are branded as ‘OceanMedallion’ and allow:

  • Guests to unlock their stateroom
  • Guests to pay for drinks or items in shops
  • Guests to play in the casino
  • Housekeeping staff to keep track of whether or not the stateroom is occupied

7,000 sensors throughout each ship detect the beacons and 4000 interactive portals provide information for guests. A mobile app can also be used that can help navigate about the ship and find fellow passengers.

Beacons provide a way to eliminate friction in the passenger experience. The software system uses edge devices to perform operations close to where the user has been detected so as to reduce latency and network traffic. Nevertheless, the system attempts to centralise data so as not to replicate information.

The system provides Carnival with lots of useful data on guest preferences, transactions (for billing) and preferred areas of the ship. Aggregated information might be used to determine heavily used areas (for maintenance), pinch points and redundant areas of the ship to feed into improvements to the ship.

Read about Beacons in Hospitality

Read about Beacons in Visitor Spaces