Sunday, December 23, 2007

CTIA Forms Code Scan Action Team

At its October 23 meeting in San Francisco, CTIA’s Board of Directors approved a new initiative of CTIA’s Wireless Internet Caucus (WIC) in the area of Cameraphone Barcode Scanning.

CTIA's Code Scan Action Team,
comprised of industry representatives, is currently in the process of evaluating solutions to implement Cameraphone Barcode Scanning on wireless phones in the United States. According to its charter, "The Code Scan Action Team will work together to enable unified communication to external stakeholders (such as consumer goods, media, and retailers) that need to hear of a unified approach (technologically and systemically) prior to committing to their initial capital expenditure, technology selection and marketing resources. These external investments are required to drive actual utilization of the cameraphone scanning technologies infrastructure.

It is proposed that the Action Team be limited to the national U.S. wireless carriers until June 30, 2008. In the intervening months, the carriers will collect and analyze data through trial and analysis, and formulate a plan for Cameraphone Scanning Technologies market development.

Numerous opportunities are contingent upon standards being agreed upon and communicated in the areas of symbologies, code resolution, priority functions, value added services, and measurement and reporting.

According to its charter, "The Action Team will articulate conventions for code resolution, either directly through the code or indirectly through server translation."

There are two primary
methods of 2D barcode symbology encoding: direct encoding and indirect encoding.

In a
direct encoding method, the target information itself is directly encoded in a 2D barcode. The code reader on the mobile phone translates the code data and takes an immediate local action.

Indirect encoding
is the process of linking the target information to an index (364528) and putting that unique identifier into a 2D barcode. The code reader on the mobile phone reads the 2D code and sends the code data over the Internet to a central resolution server that will tell the mobile phone what action is associated with the index.

The Indirect encoding method offers obvious advantages over the direct method, and presents huge application areas for carriers, handset manufacturers, consumer goods, media, and retailers.

Listed below are just a few of the many advantages of
indirect encoding:

Indirect codes are small: The code size varies depending on the amount of information encoded in it. As indirect codes only compress an index, they have the adequate size to be successfully read and decoded by the mobile phone. However direct codes, containing a URL for example, are mostly too large and not appropriate for printed media.

Indirect codes compress unlimited information: While direct codes allow limited data to be carried in the code in order to be read by the code reader application, indirect codes can be created limitless. The target information linked to the index contained in the code can vary and be as long as the client or code owner needs it. The variety of inputs possible is lager for indirect than direct codes that can contain UPC, EAN, ISBN and other product codes as well as keywords.

* Indirect codes ensure added durability and maintain advertising continuality: The central resolution server manages the content indexed to each indirect code, allowing clients and code owners to easily update information without having to change codes. New or additional information would simply involve changing the content linked to the index and not the code itself. Indirect codes remain the same and keep linking to the proper data while direct codes are unusable any longer. Using the direct method, if a website changes and a webpage is removed, the URL encoded within the 2D barcode will be incorrect. The direct code will not link to the appropriate website and all materials (e.g. newspapers, ads, billboards, books, etc.) where the direct code has been placed will be erroneous and out of use. However, the index encoded 2D barcode remains the same making indirect codes durable and always up-to-date.

* Indirect codes make the most of the advertisement utilization: Besides their durability and long-term use, small and smart indirect codes can be discreetly placed in any kind of print or attached on any information display surface, such as advertising panels, billboards, walls, enabling any mobile phone user to access digital information and therefore maximizing the advertising utilization. As advertising space costs in given media vehicle are significant and mostly very high, the budget-minded advertiser or agency will not use any ad space for large direct codes which will impact the communication's goals.

* Indirect codes maximize the addressable handset market: Being small, discreet and durable, indirect codes can be read and decoded by a large number of mobile phones currently available on the market and not just a handful of handsets. Depending on the camera lens, optics, resolution and illumination, not every mobile phone is able to read large direct 2D barcodes.

* Indirect codes offer a wide range of exciting applications: The ability for individuals and corporations to interact with the electronic world will allow economies to be much more efficient and consumer-product companies to make their products more attractive. This also will revolutionize the ad industry by providing a one-to-one, permission-based, personalized and profiled dialog with customers. Indirect codes can be used in a wide range of application areas, from commercial to social to educational. For example, indirect codes can be used in grocery stores to get recipes and nutritional information on products. They can be used for advertising purposes, to download a trailer or music off a movie promotional poster, for instance. Or simply to help users to find the nearest cinema or call up an online box office to locate movie times. Indirect codes can be embedded in business cards to link to constantly updated contact information. Moreover, indirect codes can be used in museum and galleries, where visitors can download high-quality audio and visual content about exhibits in multiple languages. Tourists can even retrieve sightseeing information as they walk through a city.

As cameraphones become increasingly common and cameraphone barcode scanning technologies mature, an alliance of proactive carriers can create conditions that will encourage market growth.
Given the aggressive timeline for the CTIA's Code Scan Action Team, we should have a good idea by Summer 2008 of its continued effectiveness in helping the industry reach win-win solutions.

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