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One thing I notice in the fast-moving mobile payment space is the constant struggle for accuracy. In this case, I don't exclusively refer to location-based accuracy (though we will get to that momentarily) as much as the struggle over the literal meaning of words.

Case in point: iBeacon. When word began spreading about Apple's iBeacon last fall, many observers proclaimed the technology would supplant Near Field Communications as a mobile payment medium. But that's apples-and-oranges.

The iBeacon (and PayPal's Beacon, which rolled out about the same time) are not, of themselves, a technology. They are but an extension of Bluetooth Low Energy, which has been around for almost a decade.

BLE and NFC each have several use cases, but they're not the same sort of use cases. Think of it this way: Cellular communications provide wireless coverage with a footprint measured in miles; WiFi's footprint is measured in yards; BLE's is measured in feet; and NFC's in centimeters.

As this infographic illustrates, a BLE beacon is great for passively enabling a retailer's mobile app to deliver promotions, coupons or offers direct to the consumer's smartphone when the consumer is in the general vicinity. NFC can't do that. But if you want to research a specific Nikon SLR, for example, you can scan an NFC-enabled shelf tag next to it and study to your heart's content. BLE can't deliver that much location granularity.

To illuminate these two technologies, we developed this infographic in partnership with Pyrim Technologies. Read about it and debate it – and remember, while it's instructive to parse the finer points of BLE and NFC, it's not an either-or proposition. It's about choosing the right technology to appropriately address a specific business need.

(For even more detail on this topic, check out this white paper comparing key features and use cases for BLE and NFC. And if you like the infographic, please feel free to embed it on your own website or blog using the code below the infographic.)

+ click to enlarge image

BLE vs. NFC [infographic]

Download a PDF of this infographic

 

EMBED THIS INFOGRAPHIC ON YOUR SITE
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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Andy Cavallini
    7076666
    Awesome Post! If you want to know even more about iBeacons, feel free to download my white-paper titled "iBeacon Bible" from http://www.gaia-matrix.com I am sure it will be valuable. Andy Cavallini
  • Nick Collin
    6856996
    very clear and useful - thanks
  • Benois Francais
    6661616
    Good article, although, at NorkaTech.com, we can do EVERYTHING that NFC can do with iBeacon hardware, including centimeter-precision.
  • Bilal Korir
    6596149
    Great comparison, well done, at the end of the article I found myself unconsciously in position of judging which one is the best. I think BLE gives more flexibility to both costumer and retailer more than the NFC gives. but in terms of security I think NFC is the right choice, whenever a customer make a payment he/she has to go to the check point and the customer has to press the button him/her self. unlike the BLE the the costumer can be picked pocket!
  • Thomas Normann
    6519759
    I actually don't like the infographic to much, because it's mixing up what NFC is. In some sections, it speaks about NFC tags, in other sections it speaks about NFC Card Emulation. The two modes of NFC are completely different, they serve different use cases, requires different security, heck, they even uses different protocols (NDEF vs APDU)! The first part of the infographic is good though, and it's a nice comparison between the two technologies, showing how they can fulfill each other. And due to shameless self promotion by previous commentators, I'll allow myself to shamelessly promote our company MeaWallet as well. We're experts in BLE and NFC, using the technologies in our MeaWallet app, allowing VISA/MC payments, mCommerce/eCommerce, ticketing, access and more. Get in touch if interested!
  • Vincent Malarme
    6246687
    Very good summary and Infography. Thanks !
  • Ah Goodman
    6108330
    Benois Francis writes, "Good article, although, at NorkaTech.com, we can do EVERYTHING that NFC can do with iBeacon hardware, including centimeter-precision." This is simply not true. Irrespective of claimed precision, with NFC the customer initiates the conversation (and it IS a conversation); with BLE someone other than the customer initiates the conversation. Huge and significant difference.
  • Joe Fauth
    5536897
    I completely agree with your point on use cases. BLE and NFC are different technologies and they are more or less valuable, depending on what problem you are trying to solve. However, if the problem you are trying to solve is creating a mobile payments system that consumers will actually use, it would seem that BLE should be the clear favorite. I recently wrote about NFC and BLE’s role in the changing payments area, but your infographic makes the same point (in a lot fewer words). The market has tried the NFC mobile wallet approach multiple times. Consumers don’t get it. They haven’t adopted it because opening their mobile wallet, selecting a card, and tapping the POS terminal is not a better experience than using a credit card. The BLE mobile payments use case will require retailers to make more changes to their POS and checkout process, but it seems like a much more compelling use case.
  • Steve Gurley
    5526448
    Joe, you are right to focus on consumer value. No technology will prosper unless the value of using it exceeds the work connected with embracing the inevitable change. At the same time, no retailer/business will deploy a technology unless the value exceeds the cost, effort and disruption of deploying it. The secret is to find the point of intersection between business and consumer value. Not sure anyone has cracked that nut yet. This requires a lot of out-of-the box thinking/action that many wallet/payment providers are just not prepared to support. BTW, thanks for the feedback on the infographic.
  • john santos
    2270223
    wow,great blog thank for sharing. buy NFC Brochures on-line http://www.nfcbusinesscards.us/nfc-brochures/
  • Justm R
    2016932
    Great post. Loved the clear comparisons however I do think there is still yet more room for the right balance with a solution that puts consumer first with existing tech like humble QR Code as used by the likes of Znap. With the app downloaded, merchants don’t need to invest in expensive terminals to receive a mobile payment via Znap. It integrates with any POS using a simple API, sending the QR code through a secure server in the cloud. You don’t need to spend $150 on a reader – it’s totally unnecessary. With the existing equipment, they can interact with the merchant and even connect to their stock management system to help them track revenue. It has potential to leapfrog both NFC and I Beacon for both retailer and consumer ease.
  • Justm R
    2016926
    Great post. Loved the clear comparisons however I do think there is still yet more room for the right balance with a solution that puts consumer first with existing tech like humble QR Code as used by the likes of Znap. With the app downloaded, merchants don’t need to invest in expensive terminals to receive a mobile payment via Znap. It integrates with any POS using a simple API, sending the QR code through a secure server in the cloud. You don’t need to spend $150 on a reader – it’s totally unnecessary. With the existing equipment, they can interact with the merchant and even connect to their stock management system to help them track revenue. It has potential to leapfrog both NFC and I Beacon for both retailer and consumer ease.
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Latest posts by Cary Stemle
Cary Stemle
Cary Stemle has more than 20 years of experience in print and online journalism, covering business, public affairs, politics, sports, arts and culture and more. He has a bachelor's degree in history and an associate's degree in journalism from Indiana University Southeast. He joined Mobile Payments Today in July 2013.
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