American Marketer


Why Bluetooth could be the game-changer in mobile payments

August 11, 2015

Abrar Siddiqui is chief technology officer of Lucova Abrar Siddiqui is chief technology officer of Lucova


By Abrar Siddiqui

Effectively integrating the mobile and in-store experience has been a hot topic lately, and one where the optimal solution has yet to be uncovered.

Brands have much to gain from figuring this out as they can unlock sales and tap into loyal customers, which is becoming increasingly important in light of the many retail store closures.

The conversation, particularly around mobile payments, is usually focused on near-field communications (NFC), with the exception of Google’s recent announcement that it is piloting hands-free payments using Bluetooth technology.

While NFC has its benefits, it fails to provide a seamless and frictionless experience between the customer, her smartphone and the brand.

The answer to merging the worlds of mobile and in-store retail lies in having a solution that offers the factors of function, convenience and a great user experience. This is where Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology can become a game changer.

Platform independence
BLE has been supported on all mobile platforms from Apple, Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry for the last few years.

Up until September, Apple did not support NFC, but that changed with the introduction of Apple Pay.

As a technology, BLE is a widely adopted standard where mobile applications can provide similar experiences to consumers irrespective of their smartphone model.

In addition, when we look at this from a global perspective, there is a slow adoption of Apple Pay and Android Pay with NFC technologies where either the phone manufacturer, wireless carrier or bank control the domain and take away the freedom a brand has to develop a richer payment experience independent of the platform.

Frictionless payments
While both technologies can be used for short-range communication, BLE has a longer distance with a reach of up to 50 meters compared to less than 0.2 meter for NFC.

When it comes to mobile payments, using NFC involves having customers tap and pay for their purchases where close proximity to a terminal is a requirement.

The longer distance provided by BLE leaves room for creating a truly frictionless experience.

The consumer and merchant have the flexibility to manage payments in multiple ways, which includes enabling hands-free payment where the customer does not need to pull out her phone or wallet. This allows for better customer-merchant relationship building during that limited time for interaction during checkouts, since customers are not distracted by their devices.

Transaction speed
Transaction speed and efficiency are important for ensuring that customers walk away feeling happy with their interaction with brands.

With BLE’s setup time of less than 0.003 second compared to NFC’s longer 0.1 second, the processing time tends to be much faster.

For a passive observer this time difference might not be of much concern, but if you think in terms of additional processing going on within a device, shaving off every 0.01 second does add up when it comes to creating a great user experience.

Network effect
NFC is essentially meant for one-to-one communication where a tap is required for the handshake to be completed before the next transaction can be initiated.

BLE, on the other hand, provides one-to-many connections whereby a merchant can entertain multiple transactions at the same time.

This subtle difference provides more convenience and ease of operations to merchants when dealing with large groups of consumers during busy times and long line-ups.

WHILE IT REMAINS to be seen which technology will be the mainstream leader in solving the question of mobile payments, there is no doubt that having an effective mobile program is crucial for the future of commerce. We bet is on BLE.

Abrar Siddiqui is chief technology officer of Lucova, Toronto. Reach him at