The top use cases for geofencing in 2020

Adoption of geofencing tools in realtime applications has seen dramatic growth in recent years. Technavio predicts that the global geofencing market will have grown by $1.48 billion between 2019 and 2023.

Increased demand for legislation which better address the complexities of protecting individual privacy is a reflection of our growing reliance on data-driven location services and how crucial they have become to application operations, for individuals and for businesses.

What is geofencing?

Similarly to a geolocation, a geofence is used to mark a real-world geographic location. Instead of referring to the latitude and longitude coordinates of a specific point on a map, a geofence represents the virtual perimeter of a physical area. 

By using geofencing in an app, you can collect information from or engage users as they enter, move within or leave given boundaries. Defining static areas or dynamic distance ranges allows realtime apps to trigger notifications or data streams that deliver location-relevant information and services.

Geofencing technology uses GPS or RFID signals to draw the determined boundary. This allows software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves that area. Responses can include messaging such as push notifications, emails or SMS, or even activate more complex actions such as device tracking.

Most commonly geofences are dynamically generated to mark a given radius from a specific location, such as a landmark or the app user themselves and are circular in shape. But you can create a geofence of any shape and size, and can also choose to use a predefined set of boundaries which belong to a building or area such as a shopping mall or neighborhood.

Geofencing functionality poses broad opportunities for user value, and applications vary broadly in their use cases. Here are some of the top examples of adoption in modern applications.

1. Marketing and user engagement

This example represents one of the most obvious and widespread use cases for geofence technology.

Competitive tactics for geofence advertising have been widely developed in recent years and “geotargeting” is a hot topic and valuable resource for dynamic B2C marketing. Starbucks has been running location-based mobile marketing campaigns since the early days of this approach, triggering push notifications that detail promotions, local stores and even interest-based offers such as deals on a favourite drink to nearby app users. This is a powerful way to promote customer engagement and increase foot traffic in a seemingly spontaneous manner.

Geofence-based campaigns can capitalize on rich notifications which promote social sharing or request feedback to boost brand success. Some brands are now even using geofencing to run more controversial methods of competitive marketing, including building geofences around competitors locations and pushing incentivized content to customers who enter those boundaries with the goal of redirecting them.

While sending promotions to users based on location is a simple and gratifying method of driving engagement, this sales-focused approach may not be the most beneficial in terms of long-term success. App usage increasingly accounts for much of our day to day productivity, meaning notification centers are oversaturated with messages from demanding apps desperate to snag our attention. Our phones are needy, so adding to the noise with nonessential information may do more harm than good, encouraging users to disable notifications. So what about some more compelling use cases for geofence technology?

2. Internet of Things

Let’s face it, IoT is always cool. As our homes become smarter, even seemingly mundane activities such as ordering groceries or making a cup of coffee can suddenly hold a small thrill when you factor in the capabilities of the growing number of devices that assist with day-to-day tasks.

Being able to monitor and control devices in your home from a remote location is handy, but Amazon’s Routines functionality with Alexa uses geofences to take that a step further. After giving the Alexa app access to their location data, a user can set up location-based routines which kick in as they cross a geofence. For example, you can have the app to turn on your thermostat when you are on your way home, play your favourite music when you arrive, or turn the lights off as you leave. The app also allows you to set reminders based on your location rather than a specified time: “Alexa, remind me to print my presentation when I get to work.”

3. Realtime location tracking for on-demand services

Geofence lookups are a useful way of matching customers with on-demand service providers. The technique is required on every request from Uber’s mobile apps, and is used extensively for configurations. Uber retrieves geolocation-based configurations from a user’s device in order to determine which geofence they are located within and offer them appropriate services. Run through a highly competent microservice, their complex system of geofencing is able to show users which products, such as drivers or food delivery services, are available in the vicinity, define areas with exceptional requirements, such as airports, and implement their dynamic pricing across neighborhoods when they experience a high volume of requests.

Uber has just announced their first software-as-a-service partnership with San Francisco-based Marin Transit, allowing the public transport company to take advantage of the platform’s tech reach to increase convenience for its customers. This could be the first step in a plan by Uber to sell its SaaS to public transport companies across the world, expanding its market to cover scheduled services and is a testament to the broader changes we are seeing as traditional service providers respond to the convenience offered by technological advances in the on-demand market.

On-demand applications which rely on realtime location tracking can also use geofences to deliver critical updates to customers, for example by triggering a transactional notification when a driver reaches their area to alert them to proceed to a meeting location, or prepare for a delivery which is close by.

4. Device usage limitations

Limiting device usage based on location has significant potential, especially in the security sphere.

In 2015 a drone operated by a civilian flew into the White House property a conversation surrounding drone regulations arose. A US law was proposed which would require all drone manufacturers to build geofencing restraints into unmanned aerial vehicle navigation systems and override the actions of an unsophisticated or malicious navigator who attempted to enter protected airspace. Similar legislation was speculatively proposed in the UK following the Gatwick airport drone incident of December of 2018, where drone sightings close to the runway grounded over 1000 flights and delayed more than 140,000 passengers.

5. GPS asset tracking

Individuals can take advantage of geofencing to keep their personal belongings safe. A common use is for high value asset tracking; in case of an event of theft, an individual could have a geofence set up in relation to their vehicle, or a security team could set up alerts which trigger a notification when company property leaves a specified area.

This doesn’t solely apply to physical assets. Geofencing has also been used to keep track of people too. It is common in child location services; parents are able to set up a boundary around their home, and an app will notify them when a child’s device arrives at or leaves the location. This goes for pet tracking as well: fit an animal with a GPS collar and you can be notified if they unexpectedly leave your property.

Law enforcement services use geofences in offender monitoring systems, specifically to track offenders who are restricted to a designated area and tracked using . If the individual leaves that area, the authorities are instantly notified with realtime technology.

6. Big Data

Geofencing is an effective method of gathering data on offline behaviours for consumer research. Modern data analysts leverage location data to power targeted campaigns and inform their customer insights. In 2017 BMW won a Digital trading Award for their “Ultimate Data Machine” which measured campaign effectiveness by using the location data of customers who visited dealerships following outreach. The sophisticated machine model aimed to mitigate the fragmentation of data which occurs when customers choose a combination of online and offline steps in their purchase journey. By incorporating Big Data and machine learning with location-based campaign analysis, marketers have extraordinary opportunities to capitalize on incredibly informative data.

7. Health & Safety

Many proposals have looked into how geofencing technology could be used to protect workers. In 2019, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) examined the potential uses of geofencing system on construction sites, including triggering an alarm when a worker came too close to a hazardous area or notifying managers of unauthorized individuals entering restricted zones, allowing them to intervene as early as possible and mitigate safety risks.

Building a geofencing application with Pusher

Pusher’s APIs make it easy for developers to bring realtime modern geofence-enabled experiences to apps.

With Channels, you can build routing, navigation and location features such as geofencing into your realtime apps in minutes and dynamically visualize location data on your app’s UI. With our end-to-end encryption feature you can be confident that your event data payloads are inaccessible to Pusher and our infrastructure providers.

Pusher Beams is the simplest method for reliably delivering engaging content via transactional push notifications, so you can automate high-value, personalized, event-based notifications which are relevant to your customer’s location. Beams Insights help you to keep track of your notifications’ performance and engagement.

Take a look at our tutorials to find out how to build geofencing into your realtime app.

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