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Will iOS 8 Random MAC Impact your Locationing Analytics?

Posted by Cal Calamari

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November 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM



With 166 million smartphone users in the US, businesses are looking for new ways to deliver a personalized brand experience to their customers. From retail shoppers, to guests at a resort to families driving up to their favorite quick serve restaurant, businesses want to engage their customers through their personal mobile devices.

Rather than one-size-fits-all offers, today’s businesses want to provide personalized engagements designed to target a customer’s specific preferences, for example: coupons, specials, or ordering a meal via their device and skipping the line at a quick serve restaurant. The goal is to improve customer satisfaction and address the life style needs of today’s connected consumer.

Wi-Fi MAC and Locationing

Before I discuss iOS 8, I will cover how Wi-Fi™ is used in these engagement applications and the importance of the MAC address on the mobile device.

Businesses use Wi-Fi to identify and communicate with a customer through their mobile device while they are in and around the business location. If Wi-Fi is enabled, a mobile device will search for a Wi-Fi access point to connect to. During this process, the mobile device transmits its unique MAC address via a “Probe Request”. If the customer has the brand app on their device and is registered to automatically connect to the business Wi-Fi, their device will automatically connect. An analytics platform like MPact will identify the customer, enabling the business to deliver a welcome message or a customized offer.

If the registered customer has chosen not to automatically connect to the Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi is enabled, the analytics platform can still associate the device MAC address to the customer. In this scenario, a message may be sent through the app via LTE unless the customer has opted out of push notifications.

In the case of unregistered mobile customers with no app installed, customers that have their Wi-Fi enabled will broadcast their MAC addresses via the Probe Requests. Though the analytics platform will not know who they are, the business will be able to determine if the user is outside or inside a location, record and monitor their MAC address for frequent visits, determine at which locations they shop, as well as the number of mobile customers at each location. These analytics help the business determine the potential to connect with new connected consumers and design new incentives to attract more mobile users to download their app and become a member.

iOS 8 and Random MAC Address

In each of these scenarios, the MAC address provides an important element of associating a device to a user. With this in mind, the latest release of Apple’s iOS 8 noted that it would be using a random MAC address, creating a pseudo address under certain conditions on Apple mobile devices. The use of random MAC addresses could potentially affect analytics, especially if one device could broadcast many different MAC addresses, virtually looking like many different devices. We tested a number of Apple devices with iOS 8 to characterize how they behave and the impact, if any, this has on analytics and location

As a result of our testing, we discovered that only the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S with iOS 8 have this feature and we determined that there is minimal impact on MPact analytics and locationing. The iPhones only transmitted the random MAC when the phone entered sleep mode and the location based services and cellular data services are turned off. However, if a phone does transmit random MAC addresses, these can be filtered out in analytics since these pseudo MAC addresses do not have a valid vendor prefix.

When it comes to location tracking, the user’s device must be connected to the Wi-Fi and once the device is associated and connected to the Wi-Fi, it will always provide its unique MAC address.

A full detailed test report can be found here.



About the Author: As Global Solutions Lead for Enterprise Networks and Connections, Cal Calamari tracks Wi-Fi trends, technology and use cases across all verticals for Zebra Technologies. Calamari is a Wi-Fi evangelist working with channel marketing, distributors and resellers to drive revenues.


Topics: Mobility, Retail, Manufacturing, Software, T&L, Wireless LAN