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Exploring the future of location-based technology in airports

Only time will tell how—and if—beacon technology will transform passengers’ airport experiences.

Airport beacons are a hot topic in the airline industry. It’s no wonder, considering the potential for them to transform the air travel experience, grow revenue and streamline operations.

What you need, where you are
Put simply, beacons emit signals that smartphone apps pick up to know where travelers are in the airport to deliver location-based content.

This content is relevant to travelers’ personal interests and to where they are—literally—in their journey. The important caveat to understand is this: The app is what’s “smart,” not the beacon. So travelers must opt-in to the experience by downloading the app and allowing their data to be shared.

There are a variety of beacon technologies. Options differ around what is measured, the nature of the sensor, connectivity and power consumption. With mobile phones glued to passengers’ hands, and considering that beacons are affordable to buy and scale, it’s easy to understand their industry appeal.

A different kind of travel experience
There are many use cases for beacon technology. Executing any of them will require a digital architecture beyond the sensors and connectivity:

  • Information. Alerts inform travelers about flight times and delays, gate changes, final boarding calls, baggage location and more. The airport provides general alerts such as security and weather updates.

  • Way finding. Convenient mobile alerts help travelers navigate maze-like, unfamiliar airports, which is a life saver for passengers racing for a connection or hurrying to make a business meeting.

  • Offers and advertising. All stakeholders—airlines, airports, retailers and restaurants—can deliver personalized, relevant offers.

  • Loyalty points. Airlines might encourage travelers to use apps that allow for location-based tracking by rewarding them with frequent flyer points, preferred customer upgrades and other incentives.

  • Asset tracking. Providing unprecedented visibility, beacon technology can help stakeholders communicate with staff and streamline operations and resource use.

Barriers to widespread adoption
The industry is working to understand and optimize these use cases. However, they must also address barriers to adoption, which include:

  • Technology. Technology complexity, lack of standardization and integration—and no one accepted platform—require tough decisions and collaboration.

  • Infrastructure. The beacon infrastructure cannot interfere with other wireless infrastructure in the airport.

  • Management. Installation, service and maintenance costs traditionally exceed keeping a Wi-Fi hotspot up and running.

  • Uptake. Acceptance among travelers who are wary of the battery drain that occurs with beacon detections could be a problem.

  • Business model. The business case must be clear for all parties.

  • Privacy and security. Data privacy concerns naturally arise because beacon data knows where people are. Travelers have to trust that their data will be used to provide value—and that it will be protected.

Betting on beacons
While the future for beacons is still up in the air, signs point to the fact that the sky's the limit on just how much travelers will come to rely on location-based apps powered by beacon technology. To learn more, read the full news article: "Why airports are slow to install beacons."

- Robert Zippel, Accenture Technology lead for Travel