BLOGS

Product Engineering Outsourcing, Tech Talk

29
Oct

The World of Beacons

The world of hardware ID Technology has seen solid acceptance and adoption over the last several decades. In our daily lives, we have been exposed to barcodes on products, Smart Cards and more. With the rise of consumer mobile technology and advances in ID technology, the time is ripe for another progressive disruption which can combine the power of the ubiquity of Smart phones and the ID technology that is poised to work seamlessly with them and yet provide significantly enhanced customer experiences. Enter the world of Beacons !

What are Beacons?

Beacons are tiny wireless sensors that are placed in physical spaces. These tiny sensors simply transmit information to Smartphones using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

The image below shows a Beacon from Estimote, a leading Beacon manufacturer.

Beacon Manufactured by Estimote

Beacon Manufactured by Estimote

How they work?

The Beacon protocol is very simple. All the beacon does is transmit a set of information, that includes a UUID and possibly major and minor numbers. This information is transmitted to your Smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol. The BLE protocol is also known in different circles as Bluetooth Smart and Bluetooth 4.0.

So, on the consumer side, you need to have a Smartphone that a) supports the BLE protocol and b) The application that interacts with the specific beacons (i.e. consumer app) is installed on the mobile device.

As the Smartphone comes in proximity with the Beacon, it receives the UUID value of the beacon. This monitoring is typically done in the background on the mobile device and once a UUID is received, the application will need to look up information that has been either downloaded as part of the application itself or contact a server that will push the relevant information to the device.

The Beacon technology started to go mainstream since the release of the iBeacon framework as part of iOS 7 release. Android 4.x and above handsets also support BLE protocol and this number is set to rise. The beacon manufacturers make it a point at their developer site to list down the SDKs for both iOS and Android, as applicable.

The Retail Industry : A great use case for Beacons

Beacon Technology is currently best suited in indoor locations where the spaces are well defined in our physical world. Some of the applications include aids in indoor positioning /navigation, information kiosks and proximity marketing in retail stores. The last case is interesting and was brilliantly explained in the article titled “Improve Mobile UX with iBeacons” that completely transforms an in-store shopping experience.

Use of Beacon in Retail Industry

Use of Beacon in Retail Industry

The image above shows how a retail store at a mall can employ Beacons to provide both convenience and a great experience to the consumer. It includes placing Beacons at strategic locations both outside and inside the store to push information to the consumer. The experience translates roughly into the following (The flow assumes that the particular Smart phone application for the store has been downloaded and installed by the consumer on his/her mobile device):

  • At first, the consumer is outside the store and as he/she gets in proximity and within range of the beacon placed at the entrance, information about a Sale is pushed to their device. This might interest the consumer into entering the store to check the items.
  • On entering the Shop, you can reward the consumer by locating his/her presence within the shop (again via proximity to another beacon) and push discount coupons to their device.
  • As they browse through the store, they could be in proximity with other beacons that could push recommendations, offer details and even combination offers.
  • And finally, as they step out of the shop, there is a possibility of even performing the payment transaction.
Beacon Manufacturers

There are several companies that sell Beacon devices that range from introductory developer kits that can get you started in no time to custom Beacon solutions that address your specific business. Most of these companies come with their own SDKs that work with popular Android and iOS Devices and it is important to check out support for the mobile operating system before you select one.

Estimote is one of the largest beacon manufacturers and claim to have distributed more than 10,000 developer kits, which contains 3 beacons at a retail price of $99. Other leading vendors include Kontakt, BlueSense, Glimworm and more.

Conclusion

The retail industry has taken significant interest in Beacon technology to help improve customer experiences. Given the flexibility of Beacon technology coupled with cost effectiveness, it will come as no surprise to see Beacon technology being adopted to industries that employ information kiosks and entertainment. The next couple of years should see a large market of consumers move to Smartphones that support BLE and thereby spreading the reach of this technology.

References

 

Romin Irani

Principal Architect

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