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How Beacon Technology Works

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How Beacon Technology Works

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· IoT Zone ·
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With so many different enabling technologies available to utilize, picking out the right one/s to do the right job can be a little tricky. Today, we take a look at an enabling technology that allows us to push hyper-hyper-local content to mobile devices — that is, users within a meters-wide radius.

For businesses and organizations looking to target users on the ground, in a very specific area, beacons are the technology you should seek.

What Is a Beacon and How Does it Work?

A beacon is a small device that emits a radio signal every so often, advertising itself within a small location. This signal can be discovered by Internet-enabled devices, such as mobile phones. Once the phone receives the signal, a corresponding app will be started, and content specific to that beacon’s location will be loaded.

What Can Beacons Be Used For?

Since beacons are designed for use within a very small area, this makes them perfect for hyper-hyperspecific, location-targeted content, direct to users.

For instance, if you were running a music festival, you could have a beacon at each stage, which could pull up that stage’s set times on people’s mobiles, via your festival or company app.

Another example is in retail. You could place beacons in each of your stores, and if shoppers had your mobile app on their phone, they could get store-specific deals even if they just walked past the front of the shop!

Or how about for encouraging attendance in school? Where only students who are in attendance actually get the content for the class — through the beacon signaling their mobile phone and then downloading content via the app?

There are infinite uses of beacon technology if you’re looking for a highly-localized experience that can be enhanced by user’s phones.

Beacon Technology Uses Bluetooth for Communication

You know Bluetooth, right? It’s what you use to connect your phone to your portable speaker. Bluetooth is a type of wireless network technology that’s localized to a very small area.

Bluetooth Low Energy (the underlying technology of Beacons) is a specific type of Bluetooth transmission, limited in range to about 70m (although longer-range beacons do exist). The low energy tag exists because only very small amounts of data are sent over the network, which also means the beacons themselves hardly consume any power.

And because these beacons use hardly any power, that means the battery lasts for a very long time — years at a time.

Is it Easy to Set Up Beacons?

Sure! The difficulty in setting up beacons isn’t in the complexity of the devices themselves, which just require activation and placement. The difficulty lies in developing the content that you’ll send to a user’s app that is specific to that beacon.

Sounds Amazing! Why Aren’t Beacons Used More Often?

The difficulty in getting widespread beacon adoption isn’t in the beacons themselves, or even the app development side of things. Instead, the difficulties lie in trying to get users to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

First of all, they’ll require your app to be downloaded. If you’re a small retailer, then unless you have a very engaged user base, this will be very difficult. For larger stores with widespread app adoption already, this is less of an issue.

If you’re running an event, such as a conference, users will often want to use a (well-designed!) app already, so this isn’t a huge problem either.

The major obstacle is encouraging users to turn on the Bluetooth setting on their phone to enable the technology to work. Most phone users have their Bluetooth networking facility switched off by default unless they are connecting to a device like a speaker, as Bluetooth consumes power - and phone manufacturers still aren’t optimizing for battery power as perhaps they should be.

Now, for a one-day event, like a conference, users may be happy to switch on Bluetooth, if it gives them better content for the experience. However, leaving Bluetooth on all day, or switching it on when you walk into a store is a hard pill to swallow from a battery perspective, as well as from a switching perspective, if you want consumers to utilize your beacons.

Perhaps, the best use-case for beacons here is actually on-work premises — for employees' work and mobile devices, to find facilities easily, set up meetings in available rooms, and even get access to restricted data within a department.

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