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Thursday, 12 December 2013 09:10

Qualcomm has a beacon of its own

Written by Peter Scott

What does it mean for iBeacon and NFC?

Qualcomm has announced the Gimbal beacon system, which essentially looks like Apple’s iBeacon, which means both are relatively pointless for the time being.

Like iBeacon, Gimbal uses Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (BLE) to triangulate the position of mobile devices, usually in a retail setting. It can be used to serve personalized location-aware content to mobile devices, e.g. shoppers could learn more about products simply by walking past them. Gimbal is accurate to within a couple of feet. Series 10 Gimbal beacons cost $5, while Series 20 devices are $10. It is safe to assume that they will become even cheaper.

The downside? Retailers can also use the technology to track shoppers and gather information, much the same way an e-tailer would track visitors online and learn their shopping habits. No doubt some will try to use it for ads.

Some analysts believe beacons like Gimbal and iBeacon are poised to render NFC obsolete. We are not sure about that.NFC has an effective range measured in millimetres, while beacons can reach out to 50 feet or so. NFC is a different beast, for a different market, in a retail setting it can be used almost exclusively for payments.

In theory beacons could be used for in-store purchases, but due to their greater range they are inherently more vulnerable. Would you rather broadcast your credit card info to anything within a 50-foot range or an NFC receiver? Besides, either way of doing it is not much more convenient than a traditional card swipe.

Peter Scott

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