Philips uses VLC to add beacons to supermarket lighting

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iBeacon communicates directly with shoppers' smartphones when in stores. It's one of the biggest trends in mobile retail, but isn't without competition.

Royal Philips' new connected retail lighting system is the latest technology that promises to communicate with smartphones, pushing out special offers based on location. Philips debuted an intelligent in-store LED lighting system at Euroshop in Düsseldorf this week.

The system works by using lighting fixtures that form a dense network that acts as a positioning grid. Each fixture is identifiable and able to communicate its position to an app on a shopper's smartphone. This enables the shopper to get information related to his position in the store as they move around the store and location-based services to be triggered. Communication with the smartphone is by visual light communications.

iBeacon uses Bluetooth low energy, or BLE, to communicate with iOS devices and NFC communicates with non-iOS handsets. VLC transmits via fluorescent or LED lights, such as those by Philips.

"The beauty of the system is that retailers do not have to invest in additional infrastructure to house, power and support location beacons for indoor positioning," said Gerben van der Lugt, business development manager, embedded lighting. "The light fixtures themselves can communicate this information by virtue of their presence everywhere in the store."

Unlike BLE and NFC, this system requires shoppers to download an app, through which they can search for products within stores, navigate aisles or receive alternative suggestions.

For more:
-See this press release
-See this story from IEEE Spectrum
-See this GigaOm story

Related stories:
Apple puts its finger on mobile payments
Solving in-store connectivity is key to serving up mobile 
Apple rolls out iBeacon sensors in all U.S. retail stores
The real reasons why customers are leaving your store
Federal appeals court green-lights tracking shoppers by mobile