What is a Beacon and How Beacon Technology Works?
By the end of this decade, Gartner has predicted that over 50% of brands will redirect their investments towards innovations that improve customer experience, and by 2020, over half of the big organizational systems and processes will include some components of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Beacons are the next big thing in the Internet of Things. According to Webopedia, to define beacon, we mean a device that transmits small volumes of data through BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) up to fifty meters, which implies they are mostly used for location technology indoors, although it is possible to use beacons externally as well.
Beacons: How Do They Work?
Beacons work more alike to a lighthouse. It continuously sends a solitary single that other gadgets can see. Beacons don’t broadcast light, they broadcast a signal.
This signal is made of up of numbers and letters that are transmitted at intervals frequently. A device equipped with Bluetooth like a smartphone can “read” a beacon when it is within range, much like how sailors look for lighthouses to understand where they are.
How do They Communicate?
Even if the hardware is simple, the way it causes actions to tend to get complex. One system is slightly different from others, but in a nutshell, we shall explain how a beacon works.
Beacons transmit its ID numbers ten times each second, and it can be more or less depending on the settings. A closeby device enable with Bluetooth, like your smartphone, picks up that beacons’ signal. When the designated app identifies the number, it connects to action or content in the Cloud and shows it to users.
Now, let’s look at an example of beacons helping you:
Imagine you are going on a trip to a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, which is a huge hindrance.
You want to go to your hotel and the map says you can take a train to it but train stations are likely to not display directions in your native tongue.
And the station is immense and crowded, so you don’t know how to get reliable directions that are clear and most importantly, in a language you know.
Fortunately, the station owner was prepared for such problems. You notice a sign telling you that the station has an app.
You download it as quickly as you can and a beacon attached to the wall transmits a signal, so when you start the app, you can now use it.
The app reads the ID of the beacon and checks the data paired with the beacon.
It learns you are standing behind a waffle shop by Gate 4. You enter where you want to go and the app creates a map for you to show you the way to Platform 5 where you can take a train.
If you even step in the wrong direction accidentally, it corrects your path.
If the train is late, the app will also tell you there is a cafe on your right where you can rest and it can also tell you that the cafe has a special offer of the day.
Additionally, if you want to know, it will also show you train schedules.
You finally catch the train and you realize easy it was, thanks to beacon technology.
What do beacons look like?
Beacons are manageable, diminutive devices. If you break one open, you will not discover fifty motherboards and wires.
You will only find batteries, a radio, and a CPU. Beacons run mostly on miniature batteries made of lithium chip (powerful and diminutive than most AA batteries) or run through connective power like a USB plug.
They come in various colors and shapes, probably include temperature sensors, accelerometers or novel add-ons but every single beacon has one common thing—they send signals.
What are Beacons Transmitting?
Beacons are not just sending any sort of message into the surroundings. It is transferring a singular ID number that tells a device that is receiving which beacon it is close to.
The Beginning of Beacon Technology
The current beacons started when Apple launched iBeacon in 2013, which is basically a protocol that allows devices with Bluetooth installed in them to send tiny amounts of data.
Then entered Google into the scene with Eddystone in 2015 and they presented their technology as a substitute for apple beacon technology. Since then, Eddystone and iBeacon have both controlled the proximity business.
In 2014, the US giant retail chain, Macy’s, installed over 4000 beacons in their stores, which makes this the single largest use of beacons till today.
In 2015, Shazam and Facebook, two of the world’s most downloaded mobile apps began integrating beacon technology into their range of capabilities.
Then in 2017, Bluetooth announced that beacons will certainly become the base for IoT. The Google project beacon was launched in 2017. Currently, beacon technologies are continuing development with greater abilities, improved hardware, and more assorted solutions.
Types of Beacon:
There are many types of beacons. Their kinds are generally defined by battery life, size and resistance to external factors.
Here is a list of beacon devices:
- Standard beacons, which are devices that are the same size as a common Wi-Fi router or even smaller
- Small beacons, which are convenient but similarly efficient, or could be as big as a bigger sticker or a credit card
- USB beacons, which are quick to use, small and portable
- Parent beacons, which indicate other beacons, collect data and accumulate in Cloud, and much more
- Special beacons that include devices resistant to external factors (UV, antistatic, water, shattering, and dust) and video beacons that are installed into a screen’s rear to display visual information (for instance, a customer comes up to a screen in any restaurant they frequent, and it shows them personalized offers)
The Common Uses of Beacon Devices:
The Tokyo airport, Macy’s and American Eagle were among the first enterprises to adopt Bluetooth proximity beacon and proximity technology is gaining ground in retail markets.
This implies that you will start finding them everywhere soon.
Right now, beacons are used for the following things:
Among the various uses of beacons, tracking is something most people would not consider as a practical use for beacons.
In transport and manufacturing, the manager to know where their good are exactly at any time.
By sticking beacons, they can access that information whenever they need. In fact, information from earlier weeks and days can also be seen by them.
Developing accurate beacon GPS for navigation indoors is a popular use for beacons.
In the similar fashion of Google Maps helping you outdoors, beacons do it for indoors, such as telling you where you are going and where you are inside a train station, museum or festival.
Beacons can make automated reactions and cause events, for example, you step into a room and the projector starts.
If you buy something at your local coffee shop, the beacons help apps know you were there so when you come to the shop for the tenth time, you get a free Macchiato!
To make sure patients are sent to the right rooms or to warn workers in your factory about harmful changes, beacons can come in handy. It will send notifications instantly regarding the issue to the property owner or the app users.
Furthermore, combined with geofencing, beacons can provide extra security to data.
Among the many tools at an organization’s disposal, data is one of the most important. Beacons help create data on customers behavior.
The platform online stores such information on which beacons get alerted and that is how the application users communicate with them.
Thus, you can see how beacons can help Mobile App Development Company to create better apps.
The Interaction Between Beacons and Users:
To explain this, let us take a hypothetical situation.
A shopping mall decides to fit beacons in their shops, and each beacon will have IDs recorded in their designated apps.
This implies an app in a smartphone can instantly identify the ID incoming is significant and that it is from this particular mall.
The ID though has a minimal significance of its own, it is completely up to the app to recognize what it implies.
So, what comes next? That is reliant on what the owner has turned it to perform. A code could make the app send coupons. Another could provide navigation services.
The opportunities are literally unlimited. Then the beacon will simply capture your location and the program will do the rest.
So, are Beacons Tracking Me?
No, beacons are not pursuing you. This is where beacons are largely misunderstood; they are not interested in tracking you. They are simply broadcasting signals and one signal can cause so many things.
For instance, Kontakt.io is a platform online that allows you to maintain, update and configure each of your beacons. From here, you can do your own Mobile App Development or use another program (like Content Management Systems).
Such programs let you connect links, texts, images, and videos with distinct beacons. Several such platforms are catered to be extremely user-friendly.
This implies they are usually easy-to-use and sleek and they require no coding.
For example, a museum owner can use a program to add the latest features to their gallery app (audio guides or quizzes) simply by typing text or questions.
The program then that performs all the strenuous work instantly. It also collects everything in the Cloud for easy access later.
The entire infrastructure of beacons is provided by Bluetooth. It is used to send data over reduced distances, a technology that is wireless and not so different from WiFi.
Bluetooth has been around since the 1990s, however, BLE or Bluetooth Low Energy is a technology that only showed up in 2010.
It is a power-saving version of Bluetooth. Considering they have moderate energy demands, it is useful for beacons. This lets beacons operate for decades on miniature coin-cell batteries.
Its energy consumption is much lower than the clunky and old Bluetooth.
Actually, BLE is a primary focus for IoT since it will allow the tech to last years with tinier parts.
Apple launched its own version of Beacons, named iBeacon in 2013. iBeacon uses BLE wireless technology to provide you location-based services and transmits bits of customized data to your device.
For instance, McDonald’s, after installing iBeacons in 26 outlets in Georgia and Columbus saw an increase of 8% and 7.5% in the sales of their McChicken SandWich and McNugget. They tested the technology for four weeks with their customers.
Even if its uptake has been slow, the future for beacon technology seems promising.
Beacons stand to provide many benefits to brands who are trying to customize their marketing more for their customer as that has become the norm today.
Truly, the possibilities for beacons are endless in the coming years.