Former Qualcomm executive Erik Bjontegard is taking wireless to the most local level, with a network of beacons that transmit messages within stores, offices, campuses and convention centers. His two-year-old startup Total Communicator Solutions has installed over 1,000 beacons. The beacons allow passersby to receive advertising messages tailored to a specific location. A new partnership with Norway-based Unacast promises to spread beacon networks and hyper-local marketing worldwide. Times of San Diego spoke with Bjontegard about his plans for the company.

1. Why did you create the Spark Compass platform?

I saw a need to create a solution that combines the latest mobile technologies into one simple-to-use platform for a marketing manager, sales professional or brand manager. There are so many new technologies available, but there is not a common cohesive way for a non-technical person to implement these. We saw the need to leverage cutting-edge technologies into one “platform as a service” (PaaS), where a brand manager, or anyone who has a message to send, can focus on the message itself and not have to worry about the technology behind it.  By having the PaaS model, our team of developers and system architects can include additional technologies as they become available. This is clearly beneficial to the technology companies as well, as we keep getting access to pre-production technologies to incorporate from the telecomm giants. Small businesses benefit by having our platform, they get the latest services, whether it is mobile payments, hyper-location marketing or integration with next-generation wearables.

Erik Bjontegard with a beacon.

2. How does beacon technology help consumers and businesses?

Each beacon activates the mobile phone when it becomes within range and sends a query to the Spark Compass platform. The platform then sends relevant information back to the device based on what the user has opted in for and the user’s exact location. The beacon technology provides an additional layer of location detection. Now we can deliver messages and information based on exact location and base it on the user’s intent of wanting information relevant to their location. For instance, if someone is standing in front of a shelf with many different products, we can monitor “dwell” time and only send information after the person has been standing there for a given amount of time. Instead of sending tons of unwanted messages to consumers, we verify intent and only present information based on the user showing desire to have something sent to them.

3. How many beacon locations do you have now?

We have numerous installations in the U.S. including across the University of Mississippi’s athletic facilities and campus, the San Diego Convention Center and their participating partners downtown, and XiMED/Scripps Health offices in La Jolla. We are testing Spark Compass in participating retailers at shopping malls in San Diego. We also work with Verifone to power their exhibits showcasing their electronic payment technologies, and assisted the National Retail Federation with beacon demonstrations in their ARTS pavilion during the NRF Big Show in New York last month. In Europe, we have installations across Tenerife in the Canary Islands, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Beacons are installed in hotels, shopping malls, office buildings and R&D facilities across the island, and interact with our smart destination technology to send highly relevant information based on the users’ location, both outside and indoors. Features such as directions, local tips, special offers, hotel, shopping and dining information, transportation options, and daily tips about local attractions will appear when useful and relevant to a user.

We are working on beacon networks in London and Manchester and across airports and other facilities in Norway. We are also excited about our partnership with IT giant Atos Spain who will offer beacons and our platform to their global clients.

4. Should consumers be concerned about privacy?

The beacons themselves do not capture or record anything. The only way they capture any information is via an app that a user has to download on a mobile device. We strongly believe in transparency and for anyone to use our platform, they have to actively accept our privacy policies and end-user license agreements. We also ensure that the beacons and messages are encrypted, databases are consistently updated with the latest technologies and protective measures, and that there has to be value to the end users. We work with our partners, like Gimbal and Unacast, with technology provided by the telecomm giants and equipment manufacturers, providing solutions for some of the biggest brands. We know that it is vitally important to provide privacy policies. We also work overseas where the regulations are much stricter than in the U.S. and partner with agencies to ensure compliance.

5. What’s the potential from your new partnership with Unacast?

We are excited about where this can go. The partnership will provide advertisers and brands with the ability to match a user’s in-store behavior and intent to when they are online. Advertisers will be able to send more relevant information and offers to their customers, right then and there. The relevance of offers will now be even deeper. The consumer will benefit by getting offers that are of interest to them. All of a sudden the ads are more than just ads, they are offers that are very relevant. We see this as another step to a very engaged relationship between a brand, store, and/or sports team with their fans and consumers.

Times of San Diego, a startup itself, regularly writes about startups in technology, biotech and other sectors of local business. If you are a startup in the San Diego area and want to tell your story, please contact news@timesofsandiego.com.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.