Bluetooth Low-Energy beacon and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies are both used to leverage and report an attendee’s location. But, because of their various strengths and weaknesses, they aren’t interchangeable as options for many common event use cases. Making sure that the best technology is used in specific scenarios helps planners achieve the best results.

Best Use for Beacons:

  • Content distribution. A beacon-enabled mobile phone application is the only scenario in which content can be pushed to a user.  In a technology-forward user group, one whose members download the appropriate app and turn on the Bluetooth feature on their smartphones (which can be a significant barrier to adoption in many cases), beacons can be used to activate coupons, special offers, backstage passes, food vouchers, advertisements (usually the least acceptable use case in events) to video, and digital collateral.
  • Push notifications. Also with beacon-enabled phone apps, depending on the app, push notifications can be sent to users who come into the proximity of a beacon to take a specific action, such as join an online conversation (perhaps one relevant to products on display, an exhibit booth, or resource center), vote in a live audience poll, complete conference session evaluations, or network with people nearby who have a similar profile.
  • Indoor navigation. Similar to the way in which lighthouses help passing ships navigate close to shore and GPS (outdoors) helps people walk, drive, bike or take public transportation to and from various locations, beacons can help event attendees navigate inside large building and exhibit areas. You Are Here functionality or turn-by-turn instructions are typical ways that beacon technology can differentiate itself from RFID.

Best Use for RFID:

  • Attendance monitoring. RFID can actually read information from the tag (a number corresponding to the wearer’s identity or status, such as verified ticket holder) embedded in a wristband or on an attendee badge. Add that to the precision of RFID (the right configuration can read up to 1,000 tags per second at a 100% read rate) and a setting in which multiple attendees or guests are entering through a door or gate at the same time is a perfect use case for RFID.
  • Fraud detection. Software used in conjunction with RFID can sound the alarm on credentials, wristbands, badges, or other wearables that are being used inappropriately, stolen, or counterfeited, much the same way that tickets scanned with a handheld device can detect misuse. RFID is much quicker—eliminating bottlenecks at entrance points—and can yield more detailed information than scanning.
  • Interactive experiences. RFID-enabled wristbands and other credentials can be an open door for attendee experiences from checking-in at various locations to win prizes, posting updates on social media, spending pre-loaded tokens on food, merchandise and activities, earning digital swag, downloading music, and supporting a company, sponsor, or participant. Note: NFC (a type of short-range RFID technology can also be used in many of the previous cases).

Beacons and RFID behave similarly, but work differently. Many beacon-enabled activations require mobile phone applications to be effective. Wearable beacons can take the place of RFID in many cases, but they can’t distribute content to individual users without a visual receiver like a smartphone. RFID is not mobile-friendly (unless we’re discussing it’s cousin NFC), but it has capabilities—reading information from a tag accurately and at long range—that can be more useful than either beacons or NFC.  To learn which technology is better for specific use cases, discuss your requirements with a location-technology expert at SmartSource Rentals.

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