Why KLM set the beacon ball rolling

Benét J. Wilson shares insights into how beacons are working in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport as well as other future use cases

In October 2014, the Dutch carrier KLM took the decision to install beacons at its terminals and lounges in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol with the aim of helping passengers to better navigate the facility. This move was the precursor to Schiphol rolling out 2,000 beacons across all public areas in its 5 million square-metre space, making it the first airport in Europe to do so.

The NAO BlueSpot beacons were installed by the French company Polestar to offer indoor navigation for passengers in all of Schiphol’s public areas. The airport is Europe's first to have beacons in all public areas of the terminal buildings, as well as its Plaza shopping which sits in the publicly accessible part of the airport.

Since October 2015, the Schiphol app has not only provided indoor navigation in the airport’s public areas, it has gone a step further. “The beacons also enable Schiphol, as well as third parties, to develop proximity-based apps,” explains airport’s spokesperson Paul Weber.

Schiphol has deployed beacons at Schiphol for all its partners, which means that airlines and other parties can use the beacons to develop new smart applications that will further improve the passenger experience at the airport.

Typical uses of the beacons are indoor navigation and proximity-based services. For instance, they can automatically display a boarding pass when close to a self-service check-in, or provide information on tax-free import rules to passengers waiting for their luggage in the reclaim areas.

At Schiphol airport, the beacons have all kinds of proximity applications. For instance, the management system of the platform buses use beacons mounted at the bus stops to ensure the bus delivers incoming passengers at the correct terminal entrance.

…proximity knowledge for items and people brings unimaginable value to what we can do with computers

Indeed, when a beacon is attached to a physical object, it can track activity and perform actions automatically as a result. “From logging the movements of every single piece of luggage at the airport to presenting people with coupons tailored to their unique interests, proximity knowledge for items and people brings unimaginable value to what we can do with computers. It makes them relatable to the real world in a way that they have never been before,” says Szymon Niemczura, CEO Polish beacon provider Kontakt.io, whose company has installed beacons in retail outlets, museums and for events.

In the `back office’, beacons can also help to improve business processes. For example, airline staff can be equipped with smartphones allowing the company to locate staff members and assign them specific tasks.

More on how airports are using beacons and other technology in the EyeforTravel report Airport 3.0: The Technology and Data Transforming Airports 

Airports of the future

Beacon technology is advancing and people are becoming increasingly comfortable in their interaction with proximity solutions. “Travellers are familiar with the idea of Bluetooth applications and are willing to engage with them in various contexts,” says Niemczura. Since airports provide any number of use cases for applications that can help to improve the overall experience for travellers, beacons are a useful foundation.

When it comes to very privacy concerns firms must take steps to educate their consumers.

Allaying fears is Niemczura who says: “Beacons themselves cannot gather data; it only sends a signal that repeats several times a second. That’s all it does. This is fundamentally a very simple little device.”

When people are worried about privacy and security, the issue is usually tied to the application that their phone is using or it’s tied to some device, other than a beacon, says Niemczura. He argues that here it’s the developer that needs to properly inform users about the information they gather.

The Data Protection Act (DPA) protects the privacy of citizens including travellers. “For example, citizens have the right to information and access to their data, and the right to oppose the use of their information. If Schiphol personally wants to capture, use or forward, then we are obliged to inform the person about this,” Weber explains.

For decision makers in the airport industry, there are three reasons to consider investing in beacon technology, says Niemczura.

1. It’s high-tech and can be deployed and tested quickly.  

Other technologies might have their benefits, but Bluetooth is winning because it’s everywhere. Beacons give applications a low-energy way to get the proximity data that they need in order to create the context. “Having longer range than near-field communication and requiring less energy than GPS, Bluetooth is in that `just right’ Goldilocks zone of functionality between the two extremes,”says Niemczura. An added bonus is that the time to market and the scalability is good.

2. Conversion rates are up 

Beacons open new marketing opportunities for travellers in an airport building who are a captive audience. The technology can help duty-free shop owners to reach them. According to Niemczura the difference between offers that are made in or near stores versus those sent elsewhere is ‘stunning’. 

“We’ve seen that conversion rates are more than 16 times higher than traditional mobile advertising when context and proximity are factored in,” he says.

We’ve seen that conversion rates are more than 16 times higher than traditional mobile advertising when context and proximity are factored in

3. Internet of Things

Becoming a part of the Internet of Things is increasingly crucial for brands to provide value to their customers and learn more about them at the same time. “Beacons are the best tool to enable brand engagement with customers and boost loyalty quickly and inexpensively.”

Installation and monitoring of beacons can be done with dedicated applications designed for whatever use-case a brand is deploying beacons for. However, in the latest step forward in beacon deployments the need to use smartphones to update beacon fleets is eliminated. For example, Kontakt.io’s Gateway uses its location engine software to collect, coordinate and manage everything that happens in a beacon deployment and simplifies the process of monitoring and maintaining all beacons in a given infrastructure.

Benét J. Wilson is the owner and editor-in-chief of Aviation Queen, where aviation, journalism and social media meet

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