What is Geofencing? A Guide to Virtual Barriers

geofence geofencing
A geofence is a virtual geographic boundary. Whether it's for security, retail or delivery, geofencing gives real-time alerts and increases awareness.

Last Updated: June 19, 2019

To Geofence or Not to Geofence. That is the Question

Sounds almost poetic, doesn’t it? But firat, what does geofencing actually mean and why should you consider using it?

When you break up the word “geofence” in two separate parts, you get geo and fence.

Now, everyone can relate to fence which is usually a boundary line such as between you and your neighbor. Of course, geo is short for geography.

When you put them together, you get a geographic boundary which is really what a geofence is… a virtual geographic boundary line.

Trigger responses with geofences

The purpose of geofencing is usually to trigger an event. For example, if you enter within a boundary, it sends a text message to you.

Nowadays, the most common industries that use geofencing are retail, security and delivery. Really, it’s all about increasing awareness for the user.

Whether it’s customers, criminals or drivers, this is how they use geofencing.

READ MORE: 1000 GIS Applications and Uses – How GIS is Changing the World

1 Alert potential customers for sales

geocoding mobile

In retail, geofencing brings a world of opportunity for laser-targeted advertisements to consumers in a given area.

Think about it for a second:

When consumers enter within a distance of a restaurant, they get a text message tailored to their likes and needs.

If your favorite dessert is 50% off, just how tempting is it to walk that extra 50 metres away? In fact, Apple uses this sales tactic to attract customers into the Apple Store.

2 Notify parents of children’s location for safety

For public safety, geofencing can notify parents if their children leave a designated area. By creating this imaginary boundary line where kids can play, it gives that bit of safety.

Not only for parents, but geofencing can increase the safety of firearms. For example, it can notify areas for permitted firearms reducing casualty.

The FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app signals the requirements to fly drones at locations. Delineating those no fly-zones is 10x easier, if you can be notified exactly where that fine imaginary boundary line is. Also, car rental companies can prevent their rented vehicles from traveling out of a geofence.

3 Signal truck drivers for deliveries

In delivery, trucks use geofencing to signal when deliveries trucks enter a proximity. As soon as it’s within the boundary, it signals an event for pick up delivery.

Businesses are always trying to save costs for efficiencies. For geofencing, it automatically tracks when delivery trucks enter or leave premises. In turn, this reduces time to sign papers or get the people to unload the truck.

Geofencing can even notify customers when a delivery truck is within a certain distance.

geofence delivery example

ArcGIS GeoEvent Server for Geofencing

The ArcGIS GeoEvent Server is Esri’s geofencing platform. You can connect to GPS devices and social media and construct your own real-time awareness apps.

Also, you can connect to streaming data feeds and automatically send alerts by emails or text messages. In addition, you can update a database or perform other types of events.

Valarm is one of the leading monitoring platforms that uses geofencing. They’ve monitored flooding, air quality and even noise with a real-time dashboard.

One of the best things is how it integrates with ArcGIS Online, Esri’s cloud-based platform. As part of this whole platform, users can intuitively create apps and maps in the cloud. In turn, your organization can use these online apps for mobile, tablet and even field collection.

How do you use geofencing?

Geofencing is about increasing awareness in real-time situations. Whether it’s for security, retail or delivery, we will continue to see geofencing usage increase.

Really, this is just the beginning step to the Internet of Things – a more connected and responsive system of sensors, signals and devices.

What are some of your neat applications of geofencing?

Let us know with a comment below.


  1. Some stores use geofencing for their shopping carts where if the shopping cart it taken outside the store and beyond a certain distance it will trigger a breaking devise on one of the wheels. This prevents shopping carts from be taken away.

  2. Some stores use geofencing for their shopping carts where if the shopping cart is taken outside the store and beyond a certain distance it will trigger a breaking device on one of the wheels. This prevents shopping carts from be taken away.

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