Beacons: Hype or Reality?

People nowadays don’t need to survive the way our ancestors had to. The 21st century gives an opportunity for everyone not just to live, but live well.

Today many things are taking place to change our life for the better: collections are changing in clothing stores, new “ultramodern” models of phones, tablets, computers, household appliances and cars are constantly appearing on the market. Therefore, in order to exceed our productivity and transcend further in this hugely competitive environment, beacons were invented.

What are beacons and how do they work?

Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that use BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) technology, which is a little bit different from traditional Bluetooth as it consumes less energy. 

They consist of a CPU, radio and batteries. The device repeatedly broadcasts signals to an identifier device. The signal is picked up by your device and marks a location in your environment.

They are the stickers you can stick or place near an object and use BLE technology to pinpoint the location of customers in a store and deliver messages to their mobile devices.

Types of beacons:

There are many different types of Bluetooth beacons out there but the most popular configurations are either iBeacons or Eddystone beacons.

There is a common misconception that Beacons, iBeacon, and Eddystone are three different things – they’re not. Here are some simple definitions of what these three terms mean:

  • Beacon or Bluetooth beacon: A Beacon (or a Bluetooth Beacon) is a piece of hardwarewhich intermittently transmits a Bluetooth signal that can be received by other devices (usually mobile phones)
  • iBeacon: is a communication protocol for Bluetooth beacons to follow. This protocol was designed by Apple and released in 2013. iBeacon works perfectly with both iOS and Android-based devices. It uses a UUID via the iBeacon protocol.
  • Eddystone: is another protocol for Bluetooth beacons. This one, was designed by Google and released in 2015. Eddystone beacons transmit three frame-types that work perfectly with both the iOS- and Android-based devices. A single beacon can transmit from one to three frame-types: URL, UID, and TLM.

The point of the definitions above is that a Bluetooth beacon can follow any of the protocols – iBeacon or Eddystone.

What can beacons be used for?

Beacons are often used in the retail and marketing sectors, when an application sends you discounts, special offers or reminders when you’re nearby the physical store.

They also find their usefulness in a wide range of business applications: airlines are using them to help travelers at airports, hotels are implementing them as part of an advanced customer service system, and cinemas are starting to use them to engage theater-goers.

They are used not only for sending promotional offers, but also for:

Tracking:  In manufacturing and transport sectors, when managers need to know exactly where goods are at any given time. They can always have that information by attaching beacons. It makes consultants’ job of checking the availability of products much easier. Moreover, you can find a needed person within a few seconds and in big offices or places like an airport terminal or a railway station, it can save you so much of your precious time.

Navigation: The principle is the same as on Google maps, only beacons can perform it not only outdoors but indoors as well.

Security: Beacons can track safety issues and send notifications accordingly at workplaces.

Analysis: Beacons can store information. This data could be used for analyzing and improving the system’s performance.

Beacons: pros and cons

There are some advantages that prove that beacons are worthy of your attention:

First of all, beacons are affordable. The price varies depending on their capabilities, but generally they’re €10-30 per beacon.

Secondly, using a Bluetooth connection provides them with independence. As opposed to Wi-Fi, a beacon doesn’t need an internet connection.

Another advantage is that a beacon consumes not so much energy. It uses standard Bluetooth Low Energy that allows devices to remain powered longer.

The main drawbacks of beacons:

Probably, the biggest disadvantage for some people is a distance of the interaction between a beacon and a smartphone (the average one is approximately 50 meters). Therefore, to receive a notification a person has to come very close to a beacon device. Otherwise, a beacon will not be able to connect to a wearable.

Besides, receiving many notifications could be annoying.

What’s next for beacons? 

After the initial hype around beacons during the past year or two, some observers say they are likely to go the route of the QR code.

Others say beacon deployments will continue to grow, as a way for marketers to reach customers and as a logistics technology, helping companies manage assets in large facilities. Also, beacons are being used in many new ways, such as for helping to guide blind commuters through London’s Tube system.

In the near future, beacons will find their ways into smart home systems, too. Imagine arriving home that automatically senses your presence, switches on the lights, and turns on your favourite playlist.

Taking into account the above mentioned, beacons are findings that will not remain unnoticed.