An unorthodox use of Bluetooth is being tested at a huge Russian shopping mall for both in-store customer location and payment transactions. The catch: It’s extremely nonstandard. Instead of pairing with customer smartphones the way Bluetooth devices usually would, individual devices throughout the store broadcast amped-up signals (range: 100 meters, rather than Bluetooth’s usual 30 to 50 meters) that tell a smartphone app about discounts and specials. If the signal from, say, the display of Bartlett pears is strongest (because it’s the nearest broadcaster) and if it meets various demographic criteria (send this one to only males, this one to shoppers older than 70, etc.), that’s the signal the app displays. Meanwhile, other Bluetooth signals with very low range (a few millimeters) are used for payments—no NFC required.
We saw this demonstrated at last week’s NRF show by vendor WiseSec, and it’s clever. But WiseSec says some retailers with especially large footprints may need as many as 50 or 60 Bluetooth beacons per store. With a 100-meter range, multiple stores in a mall will overlap, which is why the differentiation of signal makes sense. A potentially bigger problem: If you’re using high-powered, nonstandard Bluetooth signals, could they interfere with other Bluetooth devices (in-store that means everything from customer phone headsets to POS keyboards)? Not that we don’t trust the Muscovites, but we’ll like this a lot better once we see it not interfering with American or Western European customers and their toys.