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Wireless Interconnect Technologies for Retail Store Digitization

Wireless Interconnect Technologies for Retail Store Digitization

Store digitization is a question that many of our customers have an answer for. Most large retailers in the US have embarked upon the journey to digitize the store, and have come up with innovative use cases. The objective is to bring benefits to 4 areas – Customer Experience, Loss Prevention, Marketing Effectiveness and Staff Efficiency. The backbone of the store digitization solution is the wireless technology chosen for M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communications on the IoT (Internet-of-Things) network.

Choosing the right wireless communication technology can be challenging, and it needs to be an informed decision. Companies would invest upwards of 100 Million USD to deploy the setup, and moving to a new technology post deployment would be expensive, time consuming and inefficient.

The Contenders

We have ZigBee, Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth as options today. Firstly, I don’t see these technologies to be competing, as they are all very different. They are more complementary in nature, and the ideal system would deploy all of them based on the application requirements.is the most popular technology, and some of our customers are looking at Wi-Fi as a de-facto technology to implement M2M. Wi-Fi is mature and popular, easy to integrate, deploy and upgrade. It offers high throughput, and supports most off-the-shelf devices. It could win this hands-down, except for a few drawbacks. The power consumption is high, and the technology provides access to consumer devices that could be a security threat. Also, it forms a ‘STAR’ network topology that gets congested as the users / devices increase. It is ideal for open systems that would like to be accessed by anyone. Because of the high throughput, it is ideal for updating digital signage content that requires large bursts of data.

fills in the void that Wi-Fi leaves open. ZigBee is extremely efficient, secure and provides relatively low bandwidth connectivity for devices. We have designed devices with over 3 years of battery life! ZigBee operates on a ‘MESH’ network topology that strengthens the network as more devices join in. ZigBee forms a closed system, and would be great for sensor networks that continuously or intermittently register small bursts of data.

is specifically for mobile payment applications, and is available on select mobile handsets. It is a PAN (Personal Area Network) technology with a very limited range (few inches). It is secure and power efficient, while also providing high data rates. It compromises range to achieve throughput and efficiency.

is the other option that has lost steam over the years. The new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard is pitted against ZigBee, but then ZigBee does not come on mobile devices and tablets. It currently seems a good efficient technology that is popular on consumer devices, but it is positioned as a technology for wearable devices to communicate with the parent device – a mobile or a tablet. I have not seen retail applications using BLE for solutions, but would be glad to be surprised!

The Conclusion

As retailers implement various IoT architecture scenarios, the primary underlying technology for the M2M (machine-to-machine) connectivity is an area of debate. But what is the scale of deployment we are looking at? A fully digitized store today would have ~100 security cameras, ~30 PoS Systems, ~50 attendants, ~20 refrigeration units, ~100 digital signage systems, ~200 shopping carts, and ~200 shoppers. This is a system that should support a network of ~ 700 devices simultaneously, and given the investment the solution expects, it should be scalable to at least ~2000 devices.

As you can see, each of these technologies is uniquely positioned to address different types of communication challenges. This makes them complementary to each other, and not replacements. There is room for all these technologies in the store digitization concept, and selection is limited to the use-cases envisaged by the retailer. For example, a Wi-Fi based solution is ideal for automatic checkout using a smartphone application, as it can connect to the PoS System. On the contrary, a closed technology like ZigBee is ideal to network signaling devices that are not to be exposed to shoppers through consumer devices. 

What can eInfochips do?

We see significant traction from customers on solutions like auto-checkout, queue management, IP video surveillance, vending machine connectivity, secure inventory access, mobility solutions, asset tracking, digital signage automation, and staff devices.

eInfochips has delivered multiple solutions on all these technologies for various verticals and applications, including Retail. The design challenge is increased when multiple technologies are to be integrated on a common PCB, as antenna isolation is an important factor. Firmware needs constant updation, as some of these standards are evolving, and will mature over the next 12-24 months. Overall, the IoT concept in retail has been a game-changer and eInfochips has played a significant role with strategic store digitization engagements for multiple Fortune 100 clients.

Want to know the right technology for your applications or use case – shoot me an email.

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