Understanding Beacon Technology and its applications.

In hand in a world that runs at a fast pace fueled by technology, hardware and software go hand in hand. Technical innovations such as beacon technology have empowered the marketing space giving a boost to businesses. What is this beacon technology? How does it work and how do businesses benefit from it?

Definition of Beacon technology

As general knowledge goes, beacons are the guiding lights for ships in the seas. However, things are different in the digital world. Here, they are tiny transmitters that do not use visible light. 

Beacons are based on Bluetooth technology. The low energy Bluetooth(BLE) to be precise.They are small, wireless transmitters that unidirectionally transmit small amounts of information to the receiving devices that are at a small circumference around them.

How does a beacon work?

A beacon repeatedly broadcasts an identifier signal. A receiving device in its vicinity such as a smartphone picks up this identifier and a connection is established between the beacon(transmitter) and the smartphone(receiver). Upon establishing the connection successfully, the beacon then executes the function it is intended for. 

For example,If the beacon is installed at the entrance of a national park the intended function could be sending the map of the hiking trail to the recipient. If it is in a shopping complex, the beacon could send the receiver a curation of discounts and offers available for that day in the stores of the complex. The applications of beacon technology are endless.

Dissecting the beacon technology

As with all communication, beacon technology consists of a transmitter and a receiver.

Transmitter

The word “Beacon” reminds me of a lighthouse. Is this beacon you talk about as big as a lighthouse? you ask.

The answer is, No. 

The main component of a beacon is a proximity sensor. And then there is a tiny CPU, a BlueTooth transmitter, and a battery for the power supply. This makes the beacon flexible in size and application. You can stick it on a stationary object, say a wall, or on a moving object like a laptop for the purpose of asset tracking.

And what does it transmit?

A beacon transmits an “identifier” in the form of radio waves. That is all they do. The magic happens at the receiver end.

Receiver

The receiver in the beacon technology is your smartphone. To be precise, the apps on your phone. As the beacons are not capable of duplex communication, they will not read back any data from the receiver.

A smartphone app, on receiving a signal from the beacon, decodes the signal. In simpler cases, a few characters are displayed as push notifications enabled by this transmitted signal.

In more sophisticated applications, the app connects to the internet and looks up the received code. Then, it performs the actions corresponding to the identifier. 

For example, in a coffee shop, a signal from the beacon can prompt the smartphone to show the latest menu or offers available. Beacon only facilitates the connection to that particular webpage on the internet. You can frequently change the displayed content without having to reconfigure the beacon hardware

Applications

The applications of beacon technology are infinite. Some of them are mentioned below.

Retail sector: Beacons can be placed at each section of a supermarket that informs the user about the products/discounts/offers available in that section.

Navigation and Transportation: Beacons can be used to guide paths to visitors in museums and national parks where GPS is not suitable. In Airports and Rail/Bus terminals, beacons can be used to intimate the user about the scheduled arrival or delays with the next train/bus in the terminal

Notification system: In smart cities, beacons can be used to publish area-wise news and notifications to residents as they pass by the beacon’s location. Know more about smart cities <here>

Asset tracking: Beacons can be used to track assets and containers in large warehouses. Why only warehouses? You can also use it to track coffee table books in your cafe lest anyone carries them out mistakenly. 

Apple has recently launched Air Tags for tracking assets. Air Tags are based on beacon technology

Pace wisdom has also implemented a similar tracking device. Read all about it <here>

Better targeted advertising: With beacons, it is possible to know the browsing and shopping patterns of individuals. This will help to build a more precise digital twin based on their offline purchase patterns. 

What’s good about beacon technology?

  1. Beacons are small. You can install them almost everywhere and they won’t be an eyesore
  2. Beacons are inexpensive. You can install many beacons on your premises without burning a hole in your pocket
  3. Installation is easy.
  4. Beacon technology is supported by both android and iOS(iOS 7 onwards). So it will serve a major chunk of mobile users

Hiccups

  1. The user would have to install an app to receive the information from the beacon and execute the task. This might discourage a lot of users from availing the benefits of beacon technology because not everyone needs another app on their phone.
  2. Another expectation for smooth execution of beacon functions is that the BlueTooth has to be ON all the time on users’ smartphones. There is resentment in the general public to do this as they fear battery drainage. 

In a nutshell

Beacons cannot read back data from user devices, therefore they are safe from a data security perspective. As Android and iOS support this, the technology can be utilized to hyper-personalize the user experience. 

All in all, beacons are good touchpoints for analyzing user behavior and for marketing purposes.

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