Airport Location Sensors Provide New Advertising Potential

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Traveled through JFK, LAX or DFW lately? Your phone probably talked to a proximity sensor.
 Traveled through JFK, LAX or DFW lately? Your phone probably talked to a proximity sensor. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
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Traveled through JFK, LAX or DFW airports lately? These huge U.S. airport hubs are among the 84% of the world's airports that have or are testing deployment of location-data generating proximity sensors. Not only will beacons and other sensors that communicate with mobile devices to track location proximity help airports and their airline residents gauge the patterns people move in, and possibly where their devices came from, these systems could create entirely new advertising revenue streams for air travel companies.

An additional 3.5 million location data sensors were added in Q3 2016, growing the total number of proximity devices installed around the world -- not just in airports but all over -- 42% to 11.8 million since Q2, according to Unacast, a firm that partners with tech firms, connecting the location information they glean to ad exchanges.

The number of proximity sensors, which transform our everyday movements throughout physical space into digital data representing mostly untapped revenue streams for countless entities, is exploding rapidly. Unacast reported that the number of these location data devices installed worldwide was 6.2 million in Q1 of this year.

The firm's Proxbook directory and related reports compile data based on voluntary self-reporting by companies involved with sensor services. So, the uptick in the number of these devices may reflect the addition of new services reporting to Unacast.

According to the firm's just-released report, 49% of the world's airports plan to "directly contact passengers via their mobile phone over the next three years."

Yes, this probably means advertising. "This means that airports are taking a personal approach. Within the next three years they want to be able to deliver specific information relevant to an individual based on their location directly on their smartphone," said Thomas Walle, CEO and co-founder of Unacast. Airline tenants in airports are expected to get in on proximity-based ad targeting opportunities, too, added Mr. Walle. "This is a completely new revenue stream for the airport which hasn't been possible before. It is already happening, as some airports that have deployed sensors enable concessioners, advertisers and sponsors to tap into the infrastructure."

San Diego International Airport has around 300 beacons deployed, according to Rick Belliotti, head of technology at San Diego International Airport, who was quoted in the Proxbook report. Mr. Belliotti said that in addition to the airport's own app, concessioners based in the airport can also use their own apps or the airport app to advertise their wares based on location data.

"We have a limited scope of what value our data and the app can provide, so the reason we wanted to develop it is to prove how we can use beacons in an airport and to see what kind of data we have that has value. The data generated has immense value, and so we want to figure out how we can manage and leverage that data to help partners, passengers and to grow more revenue for the airport," said Mr. Belliotti in the report.

The majority of proximity sensors, 7 million, are beacons, according to Unacast's new report, which said 2.7 million are Wi-Fi and 2.1 million NFC sensors.

Uncacast also has reported on proximity sensors in retail stores and sports arenas. In July, Unacast said 93% of Major League Baseball parks, 53% of National Basketball Association arenas, and 47% of National Football League stadiums deploy location trackers.