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Radio frequency is all the rage, when it comes to new ways of delivering mobile coupons to your phone. But what if you could get coupons from your actual radio – as in, the one on your shelf, or in your car?

And how would that even work?

Well, one company is working on a way to do just that.

Verizon has filed a U.S. patent application, describing a “system for transmitting information using ultrasonic messages”. That “information” could come in the form of a web link, multimedia content – or coupons.

Picture this: you’re driving in your car, listening to your favorite radio station, when an advertisement comes on for a local retailer. That retailer happens to be right down the street. So your phone buzzes. When you stop to check your phone (because you wouldn’t do it while you’re driving, would you?) you see that you’ve just received a mobile coupon. So you decide to head to the store and use your coupon to make a purchase.


Verizon plans to make that happen, by embedding ultrasonic messages in the radio broadcast itself. You won’t be able to hear them – but your phone will. If you’ve opted in, the advertiser could beam its name, address, a link to its website or a coupon straight to your phone, while the ad is airing. And the ad itself could even alert you as to what’s happening: “Check your phone for a coupon coming your way right now!”

It’s a novel new implementation of a technology that’s already in use in some stores. Target is planning to roll out radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on all of its products, which will help stores better keep track of inventory, among other benefits. Separately, Target is testing out beacons in several stores, which will communicate with your phone via Bluetooth, to pinpoint your location and send you coupons and offers depending on where you are in the store.

Verizon says its system could combine those two efforts, as it suggests other uses for its technology. The company’s patent application also describes the use of tiny speakers placed on store shelves, emitting ultrasonic signals that are picked up by your phone as you approach. Those signals could “output a pop-up notification about a coupon for the product,” Verizon explains, or “activate a shopping application and present the coupon/advertisement” on your phone.

The down side, of course, is that all of these ultrasonic messages can add up to a whole lot of noise. You may not be able to hear them, but you won’t be able to avoid the buzzing and chirping, pinging and popups, every time a coupon that you may or may not be interested in, is delivered to your phone.

Sometimes you might just want to listen to the radio, without being barraged with ads and offers. But if the alternative is paying full price – then maybe having your phone listen out for coupons, isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Photo by masochismtango

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