According to Roger Percy of RDPA, "WiFi signals are gathered, identified by emission location, and then combined with GPS location data to construct accurate travel paths through urban canyons, subways, airports, and retail establishments. It’s intriguing to think that we should soon be able to track consumers past the advertising, into the store, and perhaps even up to the cash register."Our take:
Percy continued, "WiFi signals are everywhere and growing in number. Our preliminary testing in Manhattan last month showed a marked increase in numbers of WiFi hot spots over similar testing last July, and successfully tracked travel through Grand Central Station and the Fifty-third Street and Lexington Avenue subway station. A two-hour transit journey in Singapore detected 2,462 WiFi signals, indicating that this technology has worldwide application."
Under an exclusive licensing arrangement, RDPA with Nielsen Outdoor, a division of The Nielsen Company, developed a proprietary GPS device - the Nielsen Personal Outdoor Device, or Npod - about the size of a cell phone that members of a randomly selected sample carry in their pockets, place in their cars, or wear like a pager. The sample member’s path and travel speed is aligned with the "visibility zone" of out-of-home advertising sites, taking into consideration each site’s precise position, size, illumination status, and direction it is facing. The resulting measurement of opportunity to see delivers reliable reach, frequency, and site-specific ratings data on real people, passing real sites, in real time.
Lorraine Hadfield, Managing Director of Nielsen Outdoor, confirmed that Nielsen is exploring the additional benefits of adding WiFi to GPS in order to expand Nielsen's ability to better serve the out-of-home advertising industry.
Audience measurement and traffic measurement is a hot topic in the digital signage industry today, so it isn't surprising to see yet another technique come to the fray. This technique takes advantage of existing infrastructure, which is a plus, but relies on people carrying devices that essentially emit a signal to alert sensors to their presence (either quasi-anonymously with WiFi, or with identification information, via something like Nielsen's N-pod device). While we remain skeptical that precise measurement will be the boon to digital signage that many others suspect it will be, only experimentally-derived data will be able to settle the issue once and for all.