A beginner's guide to beacon technology

Dec 28, 2016

You no doubt know that location, location and location are the only three things that matter in real estate. But there’s a high chance that location is about to become a game changer in mobile app development as well. Location-based services are making an entry in a growing number of markets and industries, based on the use of GPS, BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Wi-Fi, geofencing and… beacons.

The beacon breakthrough

Beacon technology has been around for a couple of years already (or, to be more precise, since 2013 when Apple introduced its iBeacons) but it’s now getting close to a breakthrough – at least, if we can believe the numbers that are floating around, that is. According to a Business Insider report, beacon technology is forecast to drive 44 billion dollars in sales to retailers this year. In addition, ABI Research predicts that more than 400 million beacons will be shipped in the next five years, mostly for use in retail stores.

What are beacons exactly?

A promising outlook, but many companies still seem to be in the dark about what beacons exactly are. Well, beacons are mostly used for indoor positioning and navigation, where GPS and Wi-Fi aren’t always effective. Equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy, beacons are transmitters that consume little power yet still enable smartphones to determine their location (the typical range is 50 meters). When beacons are placed in a store, for example, they detect nearby smartphones and can send alerts and data to them – e.g. ads, coupons or supplementary product information – providing, of course, that the consumer has been willing to opt in to such communication via the retail store’s app.
In short, beacons allow apps to do clever things, based on location. Indoor positioning offers a huge potential, especially given the fact that an average human being spends 73% of his time in indoor locations!

Beacons everywhere

Retail is without doubt the industry that will be impacted the most by the introduction of beacon technology on a larger scale. The main driver is the digitization of consumer habits, which is forcing retailers to extend the online shopping experience all the way to their brick-and-mortar stores. The benefits are clear: enhanced engagement and greater insights into in-store behavior of shoppers and employees alike.

But retail isn’t the only industry exploring the use of beacons. The energy sector, airports, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, banking and more are all looking into it as well as a way of offering a more dynamic user experience (whether for external or internal customers), of better streamlining operational processes or of enhancing employee safety. Companies in the utilities sector, for example, could envisage automatically transmitting safety instructions to their field service technicians whenever they enter a power plant.

Getting started

Did you already explore how location-based services can improve your processes? And how this beacon technology can impact your future business models? Let’s talk!
Author: Nick Thienpondt. You can follow Nick on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn