NFC, Beacons Breed New Era of Digital Signage Customization

Digital signage meets Internet of Things thanks to emerging trends like Near Field Communications (NFC) and tiny radio transmitters called beacons.>

CI Staff
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Twenty-five years ago the Internet was in its infancy and digital signage as we know it didn’t exist. Fast-forward to just a decade ago and digital signage is an emerging technology with a multitude of applications across many industries.

Where are we now? Today we are seeing and experiencing a convergence of digital signage with a variety of devices and sensors, or what most now refer to as the Internet of Things.

These new technologies extend the capabilities of traditional digital signage, enhancing interactivity, improving engagement, and increasing its use within public spaces and private organizations. Let’s take a closer look at two of the most exciting technologies in the context of digital signage: NFC and beacons.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

Digital signage historically hasn’t been perceived as interactive unless the screen itself was a touchscreen. With newer technologies like Near Field Communications (NFC), organizations have the ability to take their digital signs to a new level and yet personalize it as well with a 1-to-1 communication environment.

NFC is a wireless, very short-range technology that is used to communicate information to and from mobile devices like smartphones, watches, tablets and others. It is widely popular in a number of industries such retail, manufacturing and health care.

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NFC requires minimal modification to use it and can remain on all of the time without draining the battery of a mobile device. The range for NFC is only a couple of inches, however, so to transmit information the mobile phone must touch, or be very close to, the NFC transmitter.

Information transmitted using NFC can be bi-directional, which makes it useful for digital signage as it enables a viewer with a quick tap to get more information (videos, discounts offers, etc.) on a product or service, to take information (music, mobile apps, maps, directions, etc.) with them or to personalize their experience. NFC provides secure delivery of information, which makes it ideal for uses such as electronic payments.


Similar to NFC, beacons provide a way to connect digital signage content with an individual’s mobile experience. Beacons are tiny radio transmitters that run on very small batteries and send out tiny bits of data at regular intervals.

Beacons utilize Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmission, which can be received by more than one local mobile device and therefore can be used to attract or communicate with more than one individual or device. This data being sent out by a beacon is sensed by a mobile device regardless of whether it is on or asleep.

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The ranges for beacons are generally a few feet instead of the few inches provided by NFC. In retail, as an example, a person can be provided proactive offers as they move around the store from beacon to beacon and customized information can be pushed out to them that’s relevant for their current location. For example, in the shoe department shoppers can receive a special offer to their phone or device about the daily promotion(s), whereas in the cosmetics area perhaps the screen would change to reflect relevant information to that individual.

You can add an additional layer to this by integrating in backend data systems, like a customer relationship management (CRM), inventory systems, preferences and purchase history, to create a truly personalized experience and offer what you believe would be of interest to the patron in real time.

Making Your Ideas Real

To be successful with any type of technology or new innovation it is important to think about your own business and your objectives. Those objectives should drive the technology you choose, not the technology itself. How will the technology you choose integrate with your current infrastructure? What is experience you are trying to create or impression you are trying to give?

As the Internet of Things continues to explode with popularity, and new devices and sensors hit the market, the options for connecting these with digital signage to create a unique customer experience will dramatically increase and allow you to both communicate with people and gather data or feedback about the experience, in new and potentially profitable ways.

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Author Paul Christilaw is product manager for Omnivex, and has more than 30 years of sales, marketing, and channel experience. His industry experience includes companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Dell, and SAP as well as smaller companies like ADB Systems, Envision, and Prophix.

Christilaw will be a panelist on the Digital Signage Federation’s July “Hangout” discussion, “Intersection of Digital Signage with NFC, BLE and Beacons,” on July 29 at 2 p.m. ET. DSF members and non-members may join this or any of the DSF’s scheduled Hangouts for free, but registration is required and can be accessed on the DSF website here.