Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has become a buzzword, with both PayPal and Apple, announcing the use of this technology. An important question doing the rounds is whether BLE can be a substitute for NFC in the mobile transaction space. In this context it is important to first define what BLE really is.
As its name suggests, while classic Bluetooth allows for wireless streaming of data, BLE focuses on the same with very low power consumption. This is made possible owing to three factors:
- Increased sleep time
- Quick connections
- Lower peak power
The primary differences between BLE and NFC are:
- While BLE and NFC are both short range data transfer technologies and both work wirelessly, BLE operates at a much longer range which allows for increased convenience
- Data transfer rates are higher in case of NFC
- While NFC allows one-to-one data exchange, BLE allows for multiple connections
With regard to mobile transactions, BLE offers three payment scenarios
- Under this format, the virtual card is stored on a handset which is connected through BLE to the POS terminal which in turn is connected to a payment network.
- In this scenario, data is stored in the cloud. Through BLE, the handset connects to a POS beacon, which in turn connects to the cloud. This format allows for personalization, whereby when a customer enters a store, his mobile device connects with the BLE beacon and his picture and name is sent to the cash point. The transaction does not require a card and is done on account of facial recognition by the cashier and a confirmation given by the customer.
- This scenario involves data on the handset itself, which connects over BLE to the POS which in turn is connected to the payment network. This even allows customers to scan products on their own.
Compared to NFC, a major advantage offered by BLE has is freedom of payment. It enables connection to a POS anywhere in the store. NFC on the other hand requires proximity to the POS. Also a BLE beacon works well in enabling a retailer’s mobile application to deliver customized offers to the customer’s phone when the consumer is in the vicinity, a feature that NFC cannot provide.
The other advantages offered by BLE include:
- It is more secure than BLE primarily because it works over a shorter distance thereby making spying not possible
- It requires less investment in POS technology
- It is compatible in a contactless environment
In short, while BLE has its own share of advantages primarily on account of the payment freedom it provides, NFC scores on areas such as cost as well as security. While NFC remains the technology of choice as of now, BLE can go a long way in enhancing the customer experience and also paving the way for personalization, which is indeed the future of consumer engagement.