The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that no industry is exempt from a crisis. Local and federal guidelines have imposed heavy restrictions on struggling industries, including brick-and-mortar retail operations, which are expected to see a double digit decline in total U.S. sales by the end of 2020.
To survive, organizations must adapt to changing consumer behavior. Staying six feet apart is the rule, and new ways to communicate and serve the public must be enforced. Digital signage, supported by improved communications technologies, can enable companies to continue engaging and informing customers while maintaining distances.
Digital signage supports a range of self-serve applications, from cashless payments and virtual assistants to broad deployments of self-serve kiosks. Although these can yield significant benefits, there are some complexities that merit careful consideration. Digital signage operates within a surprisingly rigorous regulatory framework, where vendors must meet strict standards for reliability and security. Unfortunately, too many organizations focus on quickly delivering new ways to interact with potential customers — overlooking crucial issues regarding connectivity, security and compliance.
Digital signage considerations
There are several factors to consider when planning a digital signage deployment. From cost and reliability standards to complex connectivity methods and security challenges, retailers must thoroughly evaluate the keys to deploying digital signage for their business to ensure a lasting and measurable impact:
- Connectivity: The technology to connect digital signage and supporting communications systems includes many combinations of installed infrastructure and cellular platforms. For example, a wired line can provide a primary connection with failover to a second wired connection or a cellular connection. Increasingly, however, cellular is becoming the choice for primary connections, due to declining carrier costs and support for easier upscaling and descaling.
- Device management: As data travels between applications and end devices, it's critical to integrate a management solution that monitors data communication between devices and configures those devices to quickly identify and respond to potential issues and cybersecurity threats.
- Security: Routers that support digital signage must be "secure by design" with built-in security that's thoroughly tested. Security must be established at multiple levels, from secure boot to encryption and authentication of passwords and data.
- Hardware specifications: Remember that challenging indoor/outdoor environments can create unique deployment needs. Previously, retailers have focused on indoor spaces, where it's essential to provide a quality signal in dense buildings and through obstructions like walls and pillars. However, the shift to outdoor settings (such as fairs) and pop-up stores brings new needs for both reliable connectivity and ruggedized deployments that can withstand vibration and extreme weather conditions.
- Cost: Evaluate the full setup costs before starting your deployment. With digital signage, the costs of operations and ownership can be complex, spanning hardware, software, connectivity, deployment, management applications, security monitoring and support staff.
The connectivity, reliability, security and hardware can make or break your deployment strategy. Cellular connectivity is increasingly popular, in large part because cellular routers are easy to install (usually in less than an hour), and compact enough to be positioned nearly anywhere for optimal reception. Cellular devices with multi-carrier support enable signage operators to remotely switch carriers to improve signal strength and minimize downtime.
Cellular connectivity replaces outdated technologies that are slower and less reliable, and are more expensive to install and maintain. Instead, signage operators leverage firewall capabilities that reconcile incoming data with outgoing requests and protect against cyberattacks. Moreover, through remote access, cellular allows you to easily update digital signage content in real-time at low cost. Those updates happen securely and simultaneously across your signage portfolio. What's more, you can remotely diagnose any technical issues or outages, minimizing the need to send personnel out to address issues.
What the future holds
As digital signage gains traction in retail spaces, cellular connectivity for these displays will grow in importance. The high quality of LTE connections and the evolution of 5G technology only enhance the value. Although 5G is still in its early stages, it brings substantial potential benefits. However, let's also note that the bandwidth and latency gains from 5G do not benefit all digital signage usages.
In reality, 5G is only being delivered in dense urban areas and at the highest possible speeds, so lower-bandwidth signage applications may not make economic sense at present. Scenarios involving large, high-resolution streaming video that must be updated frequently could benefit, but this is likely to be a secondary growth stream.
Shifting the paradigm
Most signage operators want to rely on LTE until 5G is more broadly deployed and economies of scale are achievable. Today, they can optimize current deployments that leverage high-performance LTE technology while future-proofing their deployments.
Retail will drastically change in the months and years to come. Retailers looking to improve customer engagement, lure customers back into physical stores and improve safety will start to deploy a greater number of touchless interactions. Digital signage buying and deployment cycles can require patience, and retailers will have to pay special attention to connectivity to keep deployments operating securely at all times — and ultimately achieve a meaningful return on investment.
This article was written by Brian Kirkendall from Kiosk Marketplace. News Features and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.