Mobile In-store Payments with Bluetooth Beacons

I am really sorry iPhone users are still excluded from using third-party NFC applications – a vital component for proximity identification in mobile payment applications. I was always looking for alternative.
Now that iPhones are equipped with Bluetooth radio since iPhone 4s so I decided to try to use BLE to communicate on very short range with use of bluetooth beacon.

Mechanism is very simple and to some extent already deployed in various in-store mobile payment schemes. In principle, merchant which wants to accept mobile payments needs just bluetooth beacon, which identifies his/her POS. No expensive over-complicated POS payment terminal is needed. Customer has dedicated payment mobile application with connected bank account. When transaction starts, merchant enters amount to be paid and POS sends transaction details to the payment server (on background).

From merchant authentication, server knows which beacon is assigned to the merchant’s POS. Customer’s application scans identification of the beacon (BLE advertisement) and requests from server transaction details, such as amount and purchased goods description or merchant identification to present it to the customer. Beacon is scanned only when in very close proximity, assessed by means of RSSI. This imitates user experience similar to NFC. Finally, customer confirms amount, recipient and optional PIN directly on his/her own phone. Subsequently, funds are transferred on payment server from customer to merchant account. POS and customer’s application get instant notification about result. Transaction is fully online, it means, merchant and customer need internet connection during transaction. There is no local transaction-data transfer between merchant’s POS and customer’s phone which improves transaction security.

To prevent beacon cloning or hijack, UUID rotation is implemented. Beacon identifier is changed every 10 seconds based on AES-128 key and sequence counter. Only server can decrypt beacon identifier. Sequence counter ensures scanned identification can not be reused/replayed.

On regular 3G connection, I could observe almost instant payment user experience with both iPhone 4s and iPhone6. Close proximity detection works very well too, but needs more testing in different real conditions due to nature of propagation of 2.4GHz signal bluetooth radios are using.

Beacon is implemented on nRF51 platform from Nordic Semiconductor. It is 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 system-on-chip and can be delivered in form of battery-operated device or USB-powered POS device with customer display for indication of transaction details.
Server side is implemented on Google Cloud Platform (AppEngine, Datastore).

Watch attached video to see payment in action. Implementation required four layers of expertise: Android development (Java), iOS development (Swift2), nRF51x (C/C++) development and server-side AppEngine (Java).

If you are interested to contract white-label implementation of this payment identification mechanism, please, feel free to contact me.


London’s Gatwick Airport presently has 2,000 beacons for in-house navigation

Complicated in-house environments for instance, air-ports and department stores generally is a pain to find your way around. And although Google is hunting phones with 3D detectors as one potential fix for places GPS won’t precisely reach, another approach is to kit out an interior with quite a lot of Bluetooth beacons – giving mobile phone users located-locked pings to fix onto to fnd out where they are.

The UK’s 2nd busiest airport, Gatwick airport, has decided on the 2nd approach to power an indoor navigation system it’s launching as a section of a wider, multi-year transformation program.

It’s currently finished kitting out its two terminals with about 2 Thousand battery-powered beacons to make sure that digital map users will get a more accurate blue dot as they stroll around. The beacon system will also be employed to power an augmented reality wayfinding tool – with the intention that mobile users will have the ability to be guided to particular locations in the terminals thru on-screen arrows. The beacon system is scheduled as backing up positioning with +/-3m accuracy.

Gatwick is looking to integrate indoor positioning into some of its apps, and says it’s in discussions with airlines to make use of it for their own apps and services – giving illustration of them being able to send push notifications to notify travelers if they’re running late, or even consider whether or not to wait or offload luggage so an aircraft can take off promptly.

Merchants and other third parties will also be able to use the system for proximity detection of potential consumers and delivery promoting messages – at a minimum to those who’ve signed up to receive them.

Gatwick says it will not be gathering up any private information with the beacons but says “generic information on ‘people densities’ in different beacon zones” will be utilized to help to improve airport operations – just like queue measurement, streamlining passenger flows and cutting down blockage.

The airport has worked with UK startup Pointr on the system. In addition to developing software and managing the system on an ongoing basis, Pointr provides an SDK with support for 3D AR wayfinding make it possible for third parties to take advantage of the functionality.

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