Posted : Monday, July 07, 2015
BLE beacon technology has the potential to improve the way smartphones are used by consumers and by businesses.
BLE beacons are essentially active RFID tags that communicate over Bluetooth 4.0. They are super-small computers with Bluetooth radios.
BLE beacons emit a signal containing an ID code that can be picked up by a BLE-enabled device within a range of 150m, although 50m-100m is a more realistic expectation. Developers can build apps that cause events to be triggered within an instant of a device coming within the detectable range of a particular beacon. What is more, the device is able to calculate how near or far away it is from the beacon, meaning that different events can be triggered depending on whether a device is. A device can identify numerous beacons simultaneously, and by calculating its relative distance from each of the beacons, the device can gain an element of location awareness.
The iBeacon works on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), also known as Bluetooth Smart. BLE can also be found on Bluetooth 4.0 devices that support dual mode. One potential application is a location-aware, context-aware, pervasive small wireless sensor beacon that could pinpoint users' location in a store: iBeacons could send notifications of items nearby that are on sale or items customers may be looking for, and it could enable payments at the point of sale (POS) where customers don´t need to remove their wallets or cards to make payments.
iBeacon is the Apple Trademark for an indoor positioning system that Apple Inc. calls "a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 devices of their presence." They can also be used by the Android operating system (limited to central-only). The technology enables an iOS device or other hardware to send push notifications to iOS devices in close proximity.
Developers have been able to program iBeacon-like functionality into apps since iOS5 through the Core Bluetooth API, with Bluetooth 4.0 support being added in iOS6. With iOS7, Apple has added BLE beacon support to the Core Location API, giving developers a new way to implement BLE beacon support, which still functions even for privacy-concerned consumers that have disabled Bluetooth data sharing in their iOS settings. The iBeacon update to Core Location in iOS7 also introduces the idea of groups of beacons being able to be defined.
BLE beacons have the potential to transform many industries both for consumers and for employees. Retailers can install entire fleets of BLE beacons across their shop floor and build smartphone apps for shoppers that know exactly where in the store the customer is located, serving relevant contextual information to the customer. Shopping malls can deploy fleets of beacons across the entire mall and build smartphone apps that offer indoor mapping to shoppers, while at the same time being able to offer footfall data as a value added service to the retailers renting space in the mall. Event spaces and other commercial venues can all potentially benefit in similar ways by deploying fleets of BLE beacons.