You have probably heard at least something about bluetooth beacons. Beacons, based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, basically have one job: to identify themselves. Beacons continually advertise their presence, and then provide more detailed information when an interested device, like your phone, initiates a connection.

BLE allows devices to operate for long times with very low power consumption. Additionally these devices are relatively inexpensive. In practice this means you can place beacons almost anywhere, and have an app on a smartphone be notified when it comes in range. By itself the beacon does very little, but with an app connected to a server that knows about the beacons many things are possible.

Understanding which beacons are within a certain area can provide additional information about things (e.g. objects, monuments, shops) in that surrounding area. Beacons may be deployed either to notify an app when it comes within range, like a user approaching an exhibit at a museum. Additionally, they could be placed on a moving asset whose location could be tracked by stationary or moving monitor devices, like on a pallet of goods moving to different parts of a warehouse.

graphic of people looking at a painting

The process starts when the app receives a signal that there is a beacon nearby. Then the app initiates a connection to find out more information. In our first example as the museum visitor approached an exhibit the phone in their pocket would receive a signal and pass that to an app registered to listen for it, and the app would request more details from the beacon.

The next step is usually for the application to contact a server to get detailed information about whatever the beacon is being used to identify. Then the app can send the user a message, or possibly send the server a message about the user. In our museum example the user’s phone could offer the user an audio description of the exhibit.

In conjunction with an app on a phone, a beacon is often just another way to discover or be notified about the user’s (or a thing’s) location. Other ways include using WiFi and of course GPS. Each of these techniques has their limitations, so the best solution may be to use all three. GPS has problems indoors and other similarly obstructed areas. Location accuracy using WiFi is highly variable and depends on databases built by third parties. However, using GPS and WiFi together almost always improves location accuracy.

Beacon accuracy gets better the closer the device is to the beacon. This is especially useful for things like point-of-sale systems where you need to be absolutely sure you are communicating with the right device. Beacons offer a way to ensure that location accuracy is what you need it to be, where you need it, with relatively inexpensive hardware.

For as long as people have been carrying smartphones people have talked about the possibilities of proximity marketing, offering someone nearby goods or services. Beacons are a key component to realizing this potential.

Beacons allow you to offer coupons or deals to shoppers as they walk past a product in a store. It is the same technology that drives beacons, BLE, that enables proximity-based point-of-sale systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Beacons enable inventory management and asset tracking in factories and warehouses, and of course beacons allow the precise tracking of people’s locations.

watch with signal connecting to phone

One application particularly well suited to the hybrid approach using WiFi-assisted GPS and beacons would be guiding users through a large venue with both indoor and outdoor attractions. Covering a large area with beacons might be cost-prohibitive, and you might not even want to provide WiFi across the entire area.

An app could use GPS to guide users through larger, open areas, use WiFi in larger indoor or covered areas, and use Bluetooth to place them in very close proximity to points of interest. This system could be used for giving directions, offering information about what is nearby, or promoting nearby deals. It could also help to understand and manage traffic patterns. The bottom line is that beacons are an excellent low-cost way to track where people and things are.

If you are looking to create an application that incorporates beacon technology, Seamgen is an experienced software development company that could help bring your idea to fruition! With over 10 years of experience, they have created world class applications for startups and large enterprises.