How bluetooth is changing the world

Sandip Modi, in Sandip ModiTechnology

How bluetooth is changing the world

Imagine getting a guided tour of a museum or the details of a product in a supermarket all on your cell phone. Indoor navigation, proximity marketing, automatic check-in and contactless payment, it’s all possible with the use of BLE, or Bluetooth Low Energy technology.

BLE is a wireless personal area network technology that can be used with beacons to trigger an action in any mobile device that supports the tech. It is predicted that this year 90% of all smartphones will support BLE, which could lead to a major development in IOT.

Discovered by researchers at Nokia, the BLE was first made available to the general public in 2006 under the brandname Wibree before being assimilated by the bluetooth SIG as bluetooth smart. When used in conjunction with a beacon, a BLE app can perform tasks such as displaying spontaneous information.

A beacon is a battery powered transmitter that repeatedly transmits it’s identifier to devices in close proximity. Bluetooth beacons are actually not Bluetooth standard but pseudo-standards running on Bluetooth’s low energy technology. iBeacon by Apple was the first beacon to be marketed. Though, Google has come out with it’s own beacon, the Eddystone, which has an Apache Open License, making it easier to work with. A third popular alternative can be found in the AltBeacon by Radius Networks.

Beacons essentially work by providing interactive experiences based on the proximity of a device. A beacon’s RF range can range from under a metre to 500m depending on it’s transmitting power.

There are mainly two use cases for a beacon. The first is to place the beacon on a stationary or a moving object and allowing it to be detected by a smartphone to trigger an application or to display some information. The other is to use wireless nodes to monitor the beacons passing by.

Beacons have a tremendous scope for changing the way we interact with the physical world, with applications targeting retail, ticketing, parking, marketing promotions etc. in places like malls, multiplexes, museums and locations of high footfalls.

Take for example a trip to the mall. Right from the point we enter, the technology can be used to trigger welcome messages, offers, etc. Next is navigation. While a GPS wouldn’t work in this situation, locating a specific store can be made easier by the use of beacons. Later, the customer can be shown personalised offers and information. All the while tracking the behaviour of a customer to better serve him or her in the future.

Similarly, beacons can be used in hospitals, restaurants, industries, and airports. It could also be used for inventory or crowd management.

Furthermore, Eddystone beacons using the Eddystone telemetry frame and Proximity Beacon API’s diagnostic endpoint can be monitored for battery health and displacement. This can come in handy at places such as the stadium, where maintenance can be a headache due to the sheer number of beacons used.

To make things easier, beacons can be used to broadcast web-pages in cases where a certain app is unavailable.

This technology is of great use to businesses and customers alike. To businesses, it offers discoverability while to customers it offers information like instant discount coupons. Even industries make use of it for asset management.

Generally, beacons are simple in design. However, certain considerations need to be made such as the hardware and software that are being used, trade-offs with battery life, etc.

Beacons effectively have the power to optimise experiences in places with high number of footfalls and will not be just another IOT product. The technology is already out there and it’s just a matter of time before it starts being used as a mainstream product. It could be interesting to observe how this technology changes the way we interact with the world.

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