Visible light communications (VLC) emerges as location intelligence practice takes-off

Location and spatial data is becoming strategically important to a wider range of use cases beyond traditional government, military, mining and asset management applications.  It is now an important component of the system of insights for many financial services firms, retailers, and healthcare institutes — to name but a few market verticals. A recent Forrester survey showed that 57% of technology and business decision-makers are implementing or expanding on their location analytics solution in 2017. This is up 22% since 2014. These firms are using spatial information to improve marketing campaigns, drive better customer experiences, automate business processes, inform strategic decisions, and much more.

To support the growing importance of location intelligence, last year Forrester identified the 15 most important technologies for spatial data and location intelligence in its “TechRadar: Spatial Data And Location Intelligence, Q1 2016” report. Through this research, we analyzed the maturity, business value and use cases of the tech; and provided example vendors. Within this report we reviewed an emerging location intelligence tech called visible light communications (VLC). This class of tech is in the early phases of development and adoption. So let’s take a closer look at this emerging but promising tech.

So what exactly is VLC?

VLC approaches use light sources such as LEDs or even ordinary fluorescent lamps to emit light patterns which communicate data in real-time to line of sight photosensitive devices, including smartphone cameras. The form of VLC making waves today is called Light Fidelity, or Li-Fi; it enables the wireless transfer of data at very high speeds and has the potential to change internet connectivity in the world as we know it.


While still early days VLC is already boosting customer experiences and relationships

While VLC adoption is still limited today a few innovative firms have implemented VLC technology to help them lead the charge with location intelligence – particularly the location intelligence of customers. Within this context, Li-Fi is used to enhance in-store operations and customers by supporting indoor positioning services.

LED-based VLC systems are used to detect shoppers via their smartphones and provide sub meter accuracy of their location. One of Dubai’s leading supermarket chains, aswaaq, has partnered with Philips Lighting to leverage VLC technology. Aswaaq analyzed their customer’s indoor locations and discovered that poor experiences such as difficulties in finding in-store items resulted in 16% of shoppers leaving the aswaaq stores to shop elsewhere. To counter this behavior aswaaq built their VLC-based REACH app. This provides customers optimal route guidance around the store, alerts for nearby discounts, and recipe suggestions based off of their shopping list and location, all in real-time. Simultaneously, this location data is able to generate more powerful customer insights for aswaaq management – such as app usage, shopper traffic, shopper behavior, and campaign effectiveness all in real-time which enables them to continuously improve and iterate on their initiatives. In summary, the supermarket used these VLC location-based insights to improve their services, provide a more personalized shopping experience and ultimately increase their brand loyalty.

Other brick and mortar stores are getting behind VLC, too. MediaMarktSaturn, Europe’s leading consumer electronics retailer, is similarly adopting Philips lighting systems to work with their in-store app. MediaMarkt reports that the app can direct shoppers to locations within 30 centimeters of relevant products in the store. This impressive and precise location accuracy is critical when it comes to guiding shoppers through relatively small spaces like a brick and mortar store. It is also worth noting that alongside the LED fixtures, the Philips indoor positioning system comes with an iOS and Android SDK and cloud service, which retailers or their application developers can use to embed positioning capabilities into their mobile apps.

VLC is set to become a pervasive location intelligence tool

Li-Fi has the potential to be even more pervasive than our dear friend Wi-Fi because it transfers data using visible light rather than radio waves. Consider where we have lightbulbs & light infrastructure in place right now and you start to realize the potential impact of VLC technology on future everyday life.  Imagine traffic lights that inform drivers of the local traffic; hospital lighting that lets staff know where equipment and patients are; or ceiling lights at home that help locate your ever-elusive wallet or favorite jumper. The implications of VLC tech stretch far beyond just location intelligence – consider the internet of things, the world of augmented reality, underwater safety and exploration, smart city initiatives, military operations, as well as cybersecurity and you can begin to imagine.

While Li-Fi has a shorter range than Wi-Fi, it offers a more secure environment for the transfer of sensitive data. It provides a faster connection than Wi-Fi and can transfer data in environments that radio waves cannot: like underwater. There’s no denying the potential impact VLC will have on customer understanding, experience delivery, and value across all parts of the enterprise and many types of industry – and within many types of physical environments.