Digital Signage: Outdoor options for scalability and connectivity


Outdoor digital signage networks tend to involve many units installed over a widely dispersed geography.

Mobile communications
Wireless connectivity offers a lot of flexibility, be it wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi), third-generation (3G) or fourth-generation (4G) mobile communications or even satellite-based data. Indeed, with today’s wide-scale availability of ‘hotspots,’ it is already very common to find Wi-Fi used for many indoor digital signage installations, particularly where a physically wired connection is not possible.

That said, for outdoor digital signage, a wireless network’s signal strength, bandwidth capacity and connection reliability are more significant areas of concern. Some professionals also suggest an investment in specialized wireless intrusion detection and/or prevention hardware for a Wi-Fi local area network (LAN) is required to achieve a high level of security equivalent to that of a hard-wired connection. This hardware may be cost-prohibitive when considering a Wi-Fi connection for an outdoor digital signage installation site.

Meanwhile, connectivity via mobile wireless communications infrastructure—particularly 4G LTE networks—is gaining considerable acceptance by the market. This method of connectivity is commonly referred to by the computer industry as ‘machine-to-machine’ (M2M), as the technology allows both wired and wireless systems to communicate, from one device to another. In the case of digital signage, a media player for content delivery and hardware for remote monitoring are connected to a server, which may be cloud-based.

The growth of M2M connected devices, often referred to as ‘the Internet of things,’ has led to declining costs, which help make this option promising for digital signage. Networking equipment manufacturer Cisco Systems predicts there will be more than 50 billion connected devices around the world by 2020, including many devices that were not typically data-connected at all in the past, including cars and households’ water, gas and electricity utility meters. The potential list goes on and on.


Outdoor displays installed near a building may feasibly rely on a hardwired data connection.

Simplifying the process
While the current downside of a mobile wireless connection has been its cost—including ongoing operational expenses, associated monthly access fees and data volume charges—as telecommunications carriers compete for a bigger share of the M2M market, digital signage network operators can expect to emergence of multi-year subscription contracts, annual data use allowances, more affordable rates and more customer-centric options. Indeed, display network operators in the digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising industry have already been deploying 3G endpoints for years and have made significant headway in securing high-volume contracts with major telecom carriers. Most of the world’s digital ‘street furniture,’ from bus shelters to billboards, is connected via 3G or 4G networks. Some DOOH companies have made this connectivity method standard across both their indoor and outdoor deployments, as it simplifies installations and ongoing network management.

To further enable global deployments for and secure contracts from these companies, wireless carriers in various countries are beginning to form global carrier alliances, similar to those found in the airline industry. With heated competition to provide subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to digital signs, the industry will see greater value emerge.

Another option for a digital signage network that spans multiple countries is to select a ‘connectivity service provider’ or what is often referred to as an ‘aggregator of carrier services.’ These companies’ business model is built on the promise of delivering seamless access to a multitude of global carriers and alliances and offering very high uptime reliability. Compared to negotiating a contract with each independent carrier in each country, working with an aggregator can greatly simplify the process.

M2M service providers can also eliminate a lot of guesswork by preconfiguring wireless routers, prior to shipping, to seek and find valid carrier signals and authenticate data connections regardless of the country where they will be installed. This is possible because these companies have already formed carrier partnerships. Further, they have negotiated high-volume discount rates on behalf of extensive lists of commercial clients.

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