Geofencing is a service that triggers an action when a device enters a set location. Coupons, notifications, engagement features, security alerts — businesses are finding creative ways to make use of these virtual boundaries.
What is geofencing?
Geofencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geofence.
Depending on how a geofence is configured it can prompt mobile push notifications, trigger text messages or alerts, send targeted advertisements on social media, allow tracking on vehicle fleets, disable certain technology or deliver location-based marketing data.
Some geofences are set up to monitor activity in secure areas, allowing management to see alerts when anyone enters or leaves a specific area. Businesses can also use geofencing to monitor employees in the field, automate time cards and keep track of company property.
How geofencing works
To make use of geofencing, an administrator or developer must first establish a virtual boundary around a specified location in GPS- or RFID-enabled software. This can be as simple as a circle drawn 100 feet around a location on Google Maps, as specified using APIs when developing a mobile app. This virtual geofence will then trigger a response when an authorized device enters or exits that area, as specified by the administrator or developer.
A geofence is most commonly defined within the code of a mobile application, especially since users need to opt-in to location services for the geofence to work. If you go to a concert venue, they might have an app you can download that will deliver information about the event. Or, a retailer might draw a geofence around its outlets to trigger mobile alerts for customers who have downloaded the retailer’s mobile app. In these cases, a geofence that is managed by the retailer is programmed into the app, and users can opt to decline location access for the app.
A geofence can also be set up by end-users using geofencing capabilities in their mobile apps. These apps, such as iOS Reminders, allow you to choose an address or location where you want to trigger a specific alert or push notification. This is called an “if this, then that” command, where an app is programmed to trigger an action based off another action. For example, “If I’m five feet from my front door, turn on my lights.” Or you might ask a reminder app to send you an alert once you reach a specific location.
Geofencing isn’t just for mobile apps – it’s used to control and track vehicles in the shipping industry, cattle in agriculture industry and – you’ll see this topic pop up in drone discussions. Nearly every drone is pre-programmed to accommodate geofencing, which are usually set up around airports, open-air venues and even the White House. The FAA can set up these drone-resistant geofences upon request – some barriers will stop a drone in mid-air, while others will trigger a warning message to the user. Some drone geofences will ask for a users’ authorization – a process that ties the user’s identity to their drone – so that law enforcement can keep track on unmanned drones.
With the rising popularity of mobile devices, geofencing has become a standard practice for plenty of businesses. Once a geographic area has been defined, the opportunities are seemingly endless for what companies can do, and it has become especially popular in marketing and social media.