iBeacon vs NFC

What is iBeacon?

iBeacon is a contactless transmission standard based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Specifically, a radio connection via Bluetooth Low Energy is established between so called beacons and smartphones. As indicated by its name, iBeacon was developed by Apple.

How does a connection via iBeacon work?

Beacons are radio sensors which transmit a regular signal within a radius of up to 30 m. When a beacon detects a smartphone with activated Bluetooth, a connection via Bluetooth Low Energy is established between this smartphone and the beacon. This connection establishment triggers the display of a push notification on the smartphone. Currently, iBeacon is only supported by iPhones and smartphones with Android 4.3 or higher.

What is iBeacon used for?

Most often beacons are placed in stores to inform customers via push notifications about current offers. These special offers should convince passers-by to entry a store spontaneously even if they didn’t plan to do so before they received a push notification. Moreover, beacons are often used to navigate customers through stores or to offer additional information at the point of sale. Beacons are especially well suited for marketing purposes, as push notifications are displayed automatically once a smartphone user approaches a beacon. It’s not necessary to confirm the connection establishment which can be interpreted either as advantage or disadvantage of iBeacon.

What’s the difference between iBeacon and NFC?


From a marketing perspective beacons are a perfect solution because everyone in the radius of a beacon receives push notifications with advertising content. However, receivers of such unrequested push notifications often feel annoyed. NFC tags can be used for marketing purposes as well, for example they can be attached to posters. The main difference is that passengers can decide on their own if they want to scan the NFC tag.


As NFC was originally developed to be used in contactless payment systems, it was a conscious decision to limit the reach of NFC to a few centimeters. The limited reach assures that customers don’t pay unintentionally while standing near a point of sale. In contrast, iBeacon was developed to send passengers near stores push notifications with advertising content. For this application, a reach of several meters is obviously more favorable.


iBeacon is often referred to as strong competitor of NFC, as iBeacon is already supported by iPhone. It’s only reasonable that Apple as developer of iBeacon will try to enforce its distribution while the support of NFC has a lower priority. In our opinion, NFC and iBeacon aren’t competing technologies, as both were developed for totally different areas of application. Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that Apple will support NFC in the future, because most other smartphone manufacturers already integrated NFC into their products.


While a single beacon is currently available for around 30 dollars, NFC tags only cost a few cents. iBeacon isn’t the only technology which can be utilized for marketing purposes. NFC can also be used for marketing campaigns. For example, NFC tags can be integrated into posters and passengers can retrieve the stored content by scanning the tag with their smartphones. NFC tags can contain various types of content such as a link to a website, coupons, special offers or information about a product. The main difference in using NFC instead of iBeacon for marketing is that passengers don’t receive unrequested push notifications. Many people feel more comfortable when they are allowed to decide on their on whether they want to consume advertising content or not.


  • Beacons send unrequested push notifications while NFC connections are always initiated by a smartphone user.
  • While beacons have a reach up to 30 m, a NFC connection can only be established via very short distances (1-4 cm).
  • iBeacon is only compatible with iPhones and smartphones with Android 4.3 or higher. NFC isn’t supported by Apple, but by most other smartphone manufacturers.
  • The battery of a beacon has to be exchanged after two years of usage. NFC tags don’t contain an own energy source. Therefore, a battery exchange isn’t required.
  • Beacons are quite expensive, while NFC tags are available for a few cents.

Further information

Erstellt: 2017-02-16 / Aktualisiert: 2017-05-24 2017-02-16 2017-05-24