Geofencing: what is it?

We help explain geofencing, the technology-led technique to track, understand, and sell to visitors depending on locations of interest

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You may have heard of geofencing by now – but what is it, and how can your organisation benefit from the technique? Let's take a look at some of the key vendors and why it might be useful for your business, whether that's in marketing or for other analytics use cases.

What is geofencing?

The clue's in the name. In short, geofencing involves providing a digital service within an area that's invisibly walled in – creating a kind of catchment zone within the barriers, supported by wireless technologies like RFID chips, WiFi networks or GPS.

With the imminent rollout of next generation 5G connectivity covering towns, cities, and countryside, geofencing use cases are set to receive a power boost, as the new networking equipment will provide significantly more heft in terms of wireless capability and bandwidth.

It's important to note that geofences can be vast or they can be tiny and they are not to be confused with beacons, which are similar in that they interact with mobile devices within their range but different when it comes to their ability to ring-fence geographic zones.

Why would you use geofencing?

Whenever it's advantageous to wirelessly reach, engage with, or learn from a user passing through a location with minimal fuss. Some examples could include logging would-be customers as they pass through various sections of a high-street retail shop; pushing location-based advertising; studying footfall in small or large areas; or security applications – such as preventing devices from performing certain functions within a designated area.

Again, the fenced areas can be large or small, depending on scope and budget and controls can be as sophisticated as you'd like them to be.


The accuracy of geofencing is currently quite dependent on the user. To accurately engage with passers-by, geofencing works best when people stroll through the area with location and WiFi services turned on.

Of course, many of us walk around with all of our battery-draining smartphone features switched on, and others preserving the juice in our devices with only the absolute minimum to operate.

Geofencing is more accurate in cities where WiFi and cell towers blanket practically every corner, but will be noticeably less accurate in rural areas or other locations where wireless connectivity has been neglected.

Although IoT devices and the software to manage them are all getting cheaper, depending on the scope of your project, the initial investment could have an astronomic impact on your budget.

There's also no getting around the fact that highly targeted location services just plain give some people the creeps. While that's not going to be the case for everyone – or even necessarily the majority, if your campaigns are done right – you can expect the privacy-conscious citizen to feel intruded upon by a corporation or, say, the police, which across America are making use of geofencing warrants to haul 'unprecedented' amounts of data. Especially when trust in and around big tech is at an all-time low, using targeted location services can make that intrusive sensation feel all the more concrete.

The players

Geofencing is a technique, rather than a technology, so pinning down the key movers and shakers is a mammoth task that would cover RFID chip vendors through to 5G infrastructure providers, marketers, creative agencies, consumer hardware providers, software development giants, and analytics firms, to name a few.

However, there are a few names most will recognise that have made a strong case for the usefulness of geofencing. In the indoor location market, there's Aruba, HPE's networks division, and rival Cisco.

Apple pioneered beacon technology with iBeacon, and has shown a keen interest in 'region monitoring', aka geofencing – registering intriguing location-determining patents in 2018 and tipped to introduce incredibly precise geofencing tech to its HomeKit, the smart home control centre. Analyst houses place the firm in its top geofencing vendors.

As an enormous player in the smartphone space with Android as well as its own hardware options, Google naturally also has an interest in geofencing. Here's the developer page for its Geofencing API.

There are alternatives to the big vendors too, with Bluedot and Radar providing their own geofencing platforms for applications. Events generated with these can be pulled into CRM platforms like Salesforce Marketing Cloud for a closer look at the analytics.

Case studies

Geofencing comes into its own when tactics are combined and marketers get a little more creative.

For example, after a series of suspected drone-sighting incidents around prominent UK airports, the drone provider DJI introduced a software update that would geofence the surrounding areas of airports to stop its devices from intruding on airspace.

Another early geofencing initiative was led by Coca Cola in Israel. The soft drinks giant was offering customised bottles, so thirsty buyers could have their own names plastered across the iconic red and white label of the sugary drink. By combining sales of these bottles with a bespoke app, Coke billboards could say hello to passing drivers by name.

Lastly, the New York Times described Google's vast cache of location information a "boon" for law enforcement in this 2019 report on American cops' efforts to solve crime with data.

By filing 'geofence warrants' to Google, the police are able to retrieve data about the locations near a crime rather than individuals. Google is compelled to dive into its Sensorvault database, which then is mined for devices that were in the location of the crime around that specific time.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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