Slipping through the fence

A virtual fence, an app and the necessary software from Bitplaces – and already the local advertising on a smartphone is perfect

Dr. Behrend Freese Photo: Franziska Krug

For some people fences are a major obstacle. When you run into them, it’s usually the end of the road. For others, fences mean exactly the opposite. They are the gateway to a new world. Behrend Freese is one of these other people. For him, the fences are invisible and are known as geo-fences. They’re virtual fences, and we pass them by every day, or go through them. We usually don’t notice them at all. Unless we have an app on our smartphone, along with specific software. This software was developed by Behrend Freese and his company, Bitplaces. It enables these virtual fences to tell us that a branch of our favourite café is just around the corner. Or a supermarket where tomatoes are on offer today. This is known as local advertising.

The geo-fences send a signal, like a kind of Wi-Fi. „If the app then makes contact with the fence, the program wakes up, so to speak,“ explains Behrend Freese. Specifically, this means that the advert appears on the phone’s display. What’s special about this is that the app does not have to be opened first. Specialists refer to this as „proactive“. The user can specify what type of advertising they want displayed on the smartphone: be it the menu of the day from their favourite Italian restaurant, the nearest second-hand bookshop, job offers or the places of interest in a city. They also define how often and for how long the message is to be visible. Or whether it is to be a push or background notification, for example. „It’s not just an advertisement, but rather a very specific way of addressing the customer,“ the entrepreneur explains. The customer determines what they are to be informed about.

The required software was developed by Behrend Freese together with Professor Axel Küpper and Dr. Peter Ruppel. Both teach at the Technical University of Berlin. In 2011, the trio founded the company Bitplaces. A prototype was created in co-operation with Deutsche Telekom. During development, the entrepreneurs had to overcome various difficulties: for example, the strict German data protection provisions. The data is made anonymous and must not be saved permanently. Also, the application should not additionally drain the battery. In March 2013, the market-ready software was finally launched. It is now available as a pure cloud service and as a subscription model. In this way, customers can forgo the acquisition of costly hardware. For major customers such as the „Yellow Pages“, the software is also customised. „The idea behind Bitplaces is basically simple. We asked ourselves how the customers could be enticed back into the premises,“ the entrepreneur explains. That is: how can the online world re-connect with the offline world?

Online there are no limits for Bitplaces: the software is already being used in Barcelona, Krakow and New York. In the offline world, Charlottenburg and its CHIC Innovation Centre are the company’s home. „Being close to the TU was very important to us,“ says Behrend Freese, enthusing, „the location is simply ideal for us.“

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2014