What’s the difference between NFC and iBeacons?

NFC is a short range wireless communication format that works in much the same way as contactless payments, enabling two devices to connect over short distances (around 4 inches/10 cm).


Image via Clear Channel

By way of contrast, iBeacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to push messages to mobile and tablet apps over distances of around 70 meters.

Using NFC and iBeacons in outdoor advertising

An early example of NFC use in outdoor advertising came from 20th Century Fox back in 2011. When consumers tapped their phones against NFC chips embedded in posters for the latest X-Men film they were taken directly to a link to watch the trailer.

Dominos Pizza used NFC to allow consumers to download their app straight from a poster, driving demand during the slow summer months.

iBeacons have been making a great impact in the Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising industry, with ABI Research estimating around 1million beacons in use by mid-2016 and forecasting 400million units in operation by 2020.

Initially more common in indoor scenarios, providing shoppers in-store information, there are many outdoor uses too. Wimbledon tennis have made innovative use of iBeacons to broadcast queuing information to people arriving at nearby tube stations.

Advantages and disadvantages of NFC and iBeacons

NFC is an ideal way to deepen engagement with consumers on an individual basis. It not only allows users to instantly access further information about a product, but turns passive engagement into active engagement by encouraging users to interact with advertising in a direct and immediate way.

The flip side of this is that NFC only works over very short ranges and requires the consumer to actively engage with the advertising.

iBeacons broadcast to consumers as soon as they are within range and operate over fairly large signal ‘zones’. They, therefore, have a greater reach than NFC. However, these messages don’t guarantee consumer engagement. They also require phones to be unlocked for full functionality to come into play.

Unlike NFC, which uses ever-present radio waves to communicate, iBeacons rely on a solid 3G or 4G connection. So areas with patchy signal could throw a spanner in the works of effective engagement.

At the cutting edge of outdoor advertising

There are of course advantages and disadvantages to both NFC and iBeacons. However, it’s important not to see them as rival marketing tools, but rather as complementary ones.

iBeacons are great for getting marketing messaging to reach a wide, location-specific audience, whereas NFC facilitates micro-level consumer engagement and information exchange.

The effective use of these tools as part of an integrated advertising campaign represents the cutting edge of marketing strategy in a country that has more smartphones than people.