How AT&T ShopAlerts Highlight the Potential of Femtocells and Small Cells for Location-based Services

Posted by Keith Day

AT&T is working with Placecast to launch ShopAlerts by AT&T, a new service delivering special offers to opt-in customers when they are near a participating store or brand in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

This is an innovative service, and one of the first of its kind to be widely launched. The major advantage of this type of service is that the alerts are spontaneous – after the initial opt-in the customer doesn’t have to do a thing.


At Ubiquisys we believe services like these are the future, and several years ago we developed intelligent femtocell technology to extend their potential. With with the widespread adoption of femtocells and small cells, a new generation of presence services could be just around the corner…

The Success of Location-based Services Depends on Customer Relevance

  • Location: is the offer made close enough to the customer?
  • Timing: is the customer still at that location when the offer is delivered?

To get a location fix, Placecast uses geo-fencing technology — a virtual-perimeter around a retail location, event or any geographic area — in order to deliver appropriate location-specific messages. Participating consumers receive relevant marketing messages like valuable offers, rewards and coupons when they are inside a geo-fence.

Femtocells Sharpen Geo-fence Accuracy Without Penalising Battery Life

Geo-fencing uses a variety of techniques to work out location. Cell site triangulation, GPS, and WiFi hotspots can combine to provide a highly accurate fix for smartphones. But only cell site triangulation is a universal capability. GPS is a major battery drain and rarely switched-on continuously, whilst many phones have neither GPS nor WiFi. So in reality geo-fencing is a compromise between accuracy, battery life and phone capability.

But what if individual stores had intelligent femtocells installed, if shopping malls were equipped with public space small cells, and if the surrounding streets were covered by metro cells? By multiplying the number of cells, with each one covering a tiny area, geo-fencing can simply mean using cell ID to provide a highly accurate location fix for any phone, with a minimal battery life penalty. What’s more, in large stores with multiple femtos installed, offers can be made on a department-by-department basis.

Intelligent Femtocells Provide Instant Offers with Guaranteed Relevance

It’s no good if the customer has already moved away by the time you’ve located them and delivered the offer. Intelligent femtocells can help here too. By delivering the offer message direct from the femtocell, rather than through the core network, response times can be instant. And because the femtocell knows the moment that a customer moves away, the delivery of inappropriate offers is eliminated.

Now take it one stage further. What if the small cells were connected in a kind of supergrid, where they actively work together and share local intelligence? Instead of making offers at a location, retailers could make offers as a customer approaches the store or department. It might sound a bit Minority Report, but we have this technology today.

Do you agree that intelligent cells can help retailers develop a more sophisticated relationship with their customers? Tell us!

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