All new technologies are becoming a part of our environment, but many of them remain unnoticed or incomprehensible. For many people, beacons are one of these mysterious items. Many IoT applications in large industries –such as retail and warehousing – use beacons everyday, but these small devices go unnoticed. Although the mass media has covered IoT technology repeatedly, hardly any outlets explain how these work.

What is a beacon? 10 fast facts

  • Beacons are small, wireless sensors that are normally placed in a casing;
  • The technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy (also called Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Version 4.0+) to broadcast radio signals or, simply put, to communicate with other smart devices;
  • The broadcasted beacon signals can be captured by smart gadgets, like phones, to call ad-hoc actions;
  • Under the beacon’s casing, there is a small ARM computer with a Bluetooth Smart connectivity module, which is powered by a battery;
  • The module runs on firmware, a piece of software installed on beacons;
  • The max Bluetooth Smart playout is 257 bytes, which is insufficient for embedding any media content;
  • As the computing power is limited, it can be used for processing sensor data (information about signal power) and encrypting a beacon’s ID;
  • There is a small antenna from the CPU;
  • The antenna is built in to broadcast electromagnetic waves with specific length and frequency (2.4 GHz radio waves);
  • The technology is primarily used for mapping and location services using the RSSI (received signal strength indicator) estimate. The location services are normally conducted by a framework (SDK built in the core location), which includes noise reduction algorithms to make the signals smoother and the results fairer.

It’s no secret that the future of business is hyperconnected. A beacon is just a new Bluetooth-dependent technology, which is a good investment in this connectivity. You might wonder: If beacons are similar to GPS in their functionality, why would I need them?

The answer is that both technologies are used for tracking. GPS is now widely used for tracking assets (themselves) outside or inside a room. Beacons are used for tracking everything in between. The beacons act with up to a 100-meter range as a linking bridge that helps to provide total tracking rather than controlling using indoor/outdoor devices.   

3 Beacon IoT Use Cases

Beacon developers are still struggling with a number of unsolved issues, including designing better antenna shapes and increasing signal distance. Despite this, beacons are increasingly being implemented in many retail IoT solutions, and are projected to extend further into the industrial and healthcare spheres. Several of the use cases are presented below.

Beacon IoT Ads Application

The retail application is a beacon IoT solution that uses Bluetooth geolocation to give shoppers valuable information about sales and other promos that they may find in their vicinity, for example in a shopping mall. The information is displayed on their smart Bluetooth-supporting devices.

By connecting directly with potential customers, the beacons help vendors focus their marketing campaigns with minimal effort. The beacon advertising applied by Rainbow Light boosted the average sales rate of vendors using it by 15%.

Among the beacon IoT products in the retail segment, there are also products supporting shopper mapping, customer loyalty management, in-store digital media and others.

Beacon-Powered Smart Shelves

A beacon-powered smart shelf is supplied with a radio frequency identification reader (RDIF). The reader can be built into the shelf or placed above, underneath or behind the shelf. What can it do? The reader scans the targeted items on the shelf and then notifies the backend system of the items placed on the shelf.

This allows for a better understanding of customer demands and preferences. However, the smart shelves can be no less valuable for plant storage in the industrial sphere, where it can allow fast and easy stock control and tracking.

Today, this beacon IoT project has been applied by the U.S. supermarket chain Kroger, but it has the potential for many other business segments.

Beacon IoT App for Local News

The internet allows us to get fresh news from around the world in a blink of an eye. Beacon technology helps users to experience location-based storytelling.

UK-based startup OtherWorld applies Google Eddystone beacons across Manchester to provide local stories to pedestrians’ smartphones. This helps attract tourists and tell the citizens of Manchester about the latest news, events, offers and facts about the city. When a pedestrian exits the beacon range, the story disappears from the device screen.

A similar app has been already used in Australia for visitors of The Walk of Honor.

What are the benefits of beacons?

Even though the beacon is not as popular of a tracking technology as GPS, it is being progressively implemented by IoT software development companies. Shopper mapping, beacon advertising, customer loyalty systems and many other projects have used beacons, and IoT solutions have been turned into reality.

Today beacons are being used in the healthcare and industrial spheres. BLE beacon solution providers see the possibility for implementing them to enable better asset tracking in hospitals, enhance equipment utilization, improve information flow to hospital staff and increase the overall quality of medical services.

Beacons combine both offline and online campaigns, as well as connect indoor and outdoor devices into a single self-monitoring network. Using a Bluetooth connection, the technology is cheaper than alternatives and easier to use and support. Though developers are continuing to work on technology improvements, the beacons’ IoT use cases show the viability and benefit of these projects.

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