New technology raises new questions from the customers, here is just couple of them. Can the new generation of bluetooth beacons help counting users in a shopping centre? Do they allow the communication over bluetooth as an alternative to the wireless?
The quick answer is NO and NO, I’m sorry for the bad news.
Let’s explore beacons’ business application without going into the technical details.
What are they
Talking about beacons, we refer to the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) little cheap devices that can be placed anywhere and run on a tiny battery for a year or longer.
It’s easier to start with what beacons are NOT:
- They do not need wires, or external power, or maintenance
- They are not connected to the Internet, contrary to the common customer belief
- They are not exchanging information with smartphones or other devices
- They are not pushing notifications to users
- They are not gathering information about passing-by smartphones
So while the Bluetooth Low Energy technology allows for the two-way information exchange, the tiny beacons’ purpose is different. What do they actually do?
Standard beacons are heard in a radius of 50-100m. Those user devices that hear the beacons may make use of that information and signal to the appropriate (already installed) apps that certain beacons are in a close proximity. It’s an application that can push notifications to the user or take some other actions.
The usage of beacons
The usage of beacons is based on dumb announcements sent by one side (beacon) and the intelligent interpretation of these signals by the software on the other side. For example:
- Museum app on your smartphone will show you the information about Late Renaissance the moment you enter the Late Renaissance floor. If that app stores user movement history in the cloud, later in the evening museum manager will see the activity heat maps – what users mostly go to see, how much time they spend on each floor, etc.
- Indoor geo-location app will show your precise position on a floor plan.
- Retail store app will push a discount information based on your previous shopping and viewing experience.
Let’s remember that the situation can be reverse: tiny beacon can be attached to an object that moves around, and listeners can be static:
- Doctor’s app will show him/her the exact location of a patient and other doctors in the building, along with alerts that can be triggered automatically or manually.
- In a big warehouse, trolley’s movement history and whereabouts can be displayed to the operator.
Note that there are many standards on beacon API and data formats. Apple’s iBeacon is one example of such proprietary (but widely adopted) convention, and it is up to the beacon/phone/software vendor to decide which standards to support.
Will every mobile user automatically be able to use beacons?
Yes, but they need to take some steps, which adds a bit of complexity:
- Bluetooth on the user mobile device must be turned on
- A relevant app that knows what to do with this particular beacon ID’s must be installed
- Location based services must be accepted on that relevant app
- Push notifications must be accepted on that relevant app
Thus, there are some steps to be taken in order to use beacons, but no doubts that they offer a world of opportunity to app developers and businesses.
Alex Mavrin, founder at Apteriks
Cisco CCIE #7846