Attendee Tracking Technology

BLE vs. RFID: How To Select Attendee Tracking Technology For Events

So you’re responsible for choosing an attendee tracking technology for your next event? Or you’re lurking around trying to understand the different options available?
Either way, we know that picking the right tech is a difficult task. There are many options out there and remember, all have their Pros and their Cons.

Why Would I Use Attendee Tracking Technology in The First Place?

Technologies like RFID and BLE allow us to track the attendee movement throughout the venue.

Why are they useful?
Most important, we can gain further intelligence on attendee behavior. This, in return, provides an opportunity to enhancing the experience for attendees & exhibitors.
By improving attendee experience you can boost engagement. Increased engagement affects your bottom line making your event more profitable. It’s a win-win.
Attendee tracking is not only valuable for the modern event marketer.
Additionally, the technology provides logistical opportunities for the hands-on event planner. Tracking session attendance or monitoring show floor traffic can become a breeze.
Attendee tracking technology is useful for corporations, show organizers, and exhibitors alike.
But it’s not all sunshine and flowers.
With so many different applications, it’s quite a challenge selecting attendee tracking technology. And there are solutions out there.
You can refer to attendee tracking as RTLS. RTLS stands for Real-Time Location System. It has origins in asset tracking (logistics & transports). The events industry adopted technology and applied RTLS to track attendees.
Tracking attendees? Tracking assets? Kind of the same thing. At least from a technology standpoint.

What is Attendee Tracking & How Does It Work?

Organizations use RTLS to identify locations of objects or people in real-time.

To help you visualize this, here’s a straightforward explanation: 
  1. You add a tag to a badge or any asset you want to track
  2. The tag sends data to the readers/receivers
  3. You can do all kinds of stuff with that data (if you have the right software) 
Yet, it’s not all about the hardware. Hardware, e.g., the tags are one part of the jigsaw. 
The real magic happens within the software.

Companies like TRC develop solutions to convert real-time information into meaningful data. They do this by providing interactive maps, analytics, heat maps, and dashboards.
Think about the potential use cases:
  • Attendee tracking helps marketers better understand their personas in real life
  • It can also be useful for tracking attendance at sessions too
  • The technology can deliver insights on ROI for exhibitors
Still with me?
Here’s a real-life use case explained in the RFID Journal:
McDonald’s used BLE technology / RLTS for attendee tracking at its annual conference.
They created a virtual persona ahead of their conference based on previous attendance. They already knew how attendees would behave based on historical data. Based on the data they were able to score attendees and better cater to their needs.
How did they do that?
Well, the primary attendee tracking solution used at events are RFID and BLE. 
Here are the pros and cons of each. 

Why & When Would You Use BLE For Attendee Tracking?

What is BLE, and what does it stand for? BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy and is also known as Bluetooth Smart. Not to confuse you, BLE falls under the category of active RFID.  
Still with me?
Active means that those BLE tags have a transmitter and their power source (a battery for example). 
The power source is used to run the microchip and to broadcast a signal to the reader. In contrast, passive tags have no battery.

What Is The Benefit of Using BLE?

Here are a few PR
  • BLE captures a larger radius allowing you to track each attendee’s activity within the venue
  • Bluetooth could reach up to 100 meters of distance and is available on most smartphones.
  • Since it’s available on smartphones, there’s no need of any setup of routers of WIFI zones
But, it doesn’t need to be sent from a smartphone. Smart badges are becoming popular.
They operate by a tag ‘beaconing’ or sending out transmission to a reader, and then transmitting that location to the cloud. iBeacons are the type of active RFID that uses BLE

What Are The Drawbacks of BLE?

  • Location accuracy is quite low.
  • The battery life isn’t ideal when compared to RFID systems. Yet, most devices have a battery life of 5+ years and tracking lifetime is usually shorter than this

Why & When Would You Use RFID For Attendee Tracking?


What is RFID, And What Does It Stand For?
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, helps in determining when an attendee enters into the “scan zone.”

RFID tags make the scanning process quick and straightforward. A great example of RFID can be viewed at Airports. The airline put RFID stickers in the luggage tags of passenger’s bags to avoid barcode scanning.
When you think of RFID, you feel about a passive tracking system wherein some action might be required to trigger the tracking tags
It is the kind of tracking tech that is usually used in a retail store (as an anti-theft device). The process of RFID is simple; using RFID tags on badges and battery-free, high-power RFID readers for tracking attendees at an event.
In the present events industry scenario, RFID is majorly used in event-tracking metrics, which transmits the data between tags and readers.
“The RFID RTLS market (and the RTLS market as a whole) has grown in recent years and is expected to continue growing at a CAGR of 43% until 2021.”

What Is The Benefit of RFID for Attendee Tracking?

  • No battery devices
  • The cost of tags is meager
  • Accuracy for reading the location is quite high

What Are The Drawbacks of RFID?

While the tags are quite inexpensive, RFID readers are costly.
Sustainable event venues may not allow the use of RFID tags as the energy emitted might potentially be harmful
RFID has a short read range and would need an ample number of readers to cover the entire floor of the event venue. Even using a limited number of readers will incur maintenance costs and add a burden of budget
RFID setup is a complex one! Since an RFID reader involves which isn’t a smartphone integrated, the complexity increases

When To Choose Which? Making A Case For RFID Or BLE At Events

Start With Why
You should base any decision within event technology around your “WHY?” Why do you want to use the technology? What data would you like to capture? What is the event? Who are my attendees? 
What’s Your Budget & Venue Size?
If you’re using a small venue or have a very tight budget, you should go for RFID technology. One BLE tag costs around $2 apiece while RFID tags are much cheaper. With larger venues, you need more RFID readers so you might want to opt for BLE instead. Using smaller sites mean fewer readers. Remember, RFID tags are cheap, but the readers cost a lot.
The question is, how are you using it?
Are you going cashless at events? Choose RFID bands or tags to allow attendees to pay onsite for things like food & beverages. Want to track attendees to help enhance their experience, you might want to opt for BLE. Want to track and track visits, definitely go for BLE. Remember that you can attach BLE tags to badges. 


You now got a better understanding of the differences between RFID and BLE technology for events. Before making a decision on which attendee tracking solution is best, think about your WHY first and what data it is that you want to collect.  
Be sure not to follow what your peers are using. Every event has its requirements with a fixed budget for execution. Understand the benefits and then choose what you feel is the best. 
If you have any more doubts about attendee tracking technology, feel free to reach out to us!
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