Our digital world doesn’t stay still. There are lots of devices on the market that were unthinkable for the average person ten years ago: smart watches, smart glasses, self-driving autos and so on. Among all these classy devices there are small and humble beacons. They are much cheaper than the devices listed above, however, they are far not so widespread as one may think. So what exactly are beacons?
Beacons are small bottle-cap-sized devices serving mostly for indoors navigation. GPS is also used for navigation. So where is the fundamental difference in usage? GPS is great to use outside: in the city or in nature, where there are no walls that block the signal. Beacons are the best choice for navigation inside buildings, moreover, they allow to locate smart devices much more precisely than GPS.
There are two major providers of beacon services. Apple was the first to introduce its beacon profile in 2013 called iBeacon. Google released its profile called Eddystone in July 2015. It must be mentioned that Eddystone is open-source and its specification can be found on GitHub.
Beacons are small, light and can easily be stuck or placed onto almost any surface. There is a wide variety of these devices on the market, so one can choose the matching colour, shape etc. They are powered by batteries and are low-energy-consuming, one has to replace batteries once a year or even more seldom. Each beacon has its individual ID and serves as a broadcaster. So here is how beacons work. Beacons transmit a stable radio signal over so-called Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth Smart.
It’s a technology developed by Bluetooth SIG. It is used in the Internet of Things field and has a number of advantages that distinguish BLE from the previous versions. Bluetooth Low Energy is much less energy consuming, it is obvious, costs less that classic Bluetooth and is much more convenient for transmitting small amounts of data. The signal transmitted by the beacon reaches the smart device nearby and sends its ID number to the device. The device in its turn sends the ID number to the server, that determines which action is assigned to this ID and sends the result to the smart device. Here is an example of how all this works.
Imagine you are in a shopping centre. You have an application of your favourite sports shop installed on your smartphone and turned Bluetooth and Internet on. As you walk by it, a beacon, placed at the entrance of the shop, transmits its ID to your smartphone, your smartphone sends this ID to the server, the server “knows” that you once bought sneakers there and that they have a backpack from the same collection on sale. So the server sends a notification to your device, telling you that they have the exact same backpack on sale. You see this message and become much more engaged and go into this shop to see this backpack or maybe even buy it.
So where does it make sense to use beacons? Basically everywhere where there are lots of people with smartphones or tablets. It can be a shopping centre, a railway station, an airport, generally every public place. They are also great in work environments, such as a factory or an office building.
Here are some examples of how you can use beacons in your business.
Tracking things. Place beacons onto containers and boxes so that a logistics worker knows exactly when he passes by an object that is needed.
Wi-Fi authorising. Having to enter a password in a cafe can be really annoying, especially if there is no such information to see. Beacons allow precise locating. So if a person’s device receives the signal from a beacon installed in your cafe, he is very likely to be your customer and so you can give the access to your Wi-Fi network automatically.
Marketing & Advertising. As in the example above, you can send ads and offers to your customer’s smartphone as he/she walks by your shop or is directly in your shop.
Statistics and research. Place beacons in your shop, it will be especially effective if you have a big shop, and track how your customers go through it. Then you can do research and maybe change the placement of shelves and departments.
Guiding. Guide people through a big building such as a business centre, a railway station or an airport by sending them hints using beacons.
Museums. There are people from all over the world travelling to foreign countries. As they visit museums, it can be really confusing for many, not to have information in their mother tongue, especially if they don’t speak English well. Place a beacon near a painting and the description will be sent to the visitors in their mother tongue to make their experience much richer and much more pleasant.
Reminders. Beacons can be even placed to a bus stop to remind people to buy a ticket when they stand there waiting for their bus or tram.
These are great ideas for beacons usage. However one should remember about all the challenges one can face when starting to use beacons in one’s business. They are really in a wide range: from not matching the colour of the wall and falling off of the surface to signal interferences and problems when identifying. It can be also challenging to manage beacons system, especially when you have lots of them installed in your enterprise. Despite all this, beacons can help you boost your business and win new clients. By the way, our software development team is experienced in applying IoT solutions to various problems and industries.
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