iBeacons, The Invisible Hand of Sales

15 March 2017

Bluetooth beacons or iBeacons (Apples standardised protocol) are small devices that send out signals via radio waves that can be picked up by Mobile Apps. We explain what iBeacons do and how you could use them in your own setup.

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What are they?

Bluetooth beacons or iBeacons (Apples standardised protocol) are small devices that send out signals via radio waves that can be picked up by Mobile Apps. Bluetooth beacons are built upon underlying BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology. There are different companies that produce these bluetooth beacons such as Estimote, Apple, BlueCats and BlueSense to name but a few. The underlying Bluetooth Low Energy technology, as the name suggests, is a low energy version of the traditional bluetooth standard that as well as using a fraction of the devices battery life provides the beacon with a longer battery life of up to 4 years!

How do they work?

iBeacons can be placed anywhere they are needed, including situations requiring indoor and outdoor use. Once activated, they transmit a ‘hello’ broadcast every few seconds. Their ranges varies however with line-of-sight, they can transmit up to a 70 meter radius.

Once setup, an accompanying mobile application can respond to each beacons broadcast and respond in varying ways.

The applications

The uses of bluetooth beacons are virtually limitless, however the most common application at resent is within retail. However other applications and uses can be found within public transport, allowing a user on a train to know how long it will take them to reach their destination from a beacon they just passed or even when their train is in the station. In addition to this any business or school could use it to check staff and student hours as well as ensuring that students know when and where their next class is. However the applications for beacons are limitless with thousands of uses yet to be deployed without our busy lives.

The technical

Most beacons including the iBeacon follow Apple’s standardised format of 4 main pieces of information that are transmitted from the beacons to the mobile app: UUID, Major, Minor and Tx Power.

UUID is a 16 byte string that lets one set of beacons to be identified amongst the roar of all the other beacons as well as other bluetooth devices. For example Apple beacons have a different UUID to that of other companies.

Major is a 2 byte string that goes one step further and identifies smaller sub groups of beacons within a given UUID, this allows Apple to pinpoint which store a device in in or around.

Minor is, like Major, a 2 byte string that can identify each individual beacon. This means that each beacon can be used to transmit different pieces of information depending on the position of the beacon within a set place. In the case of Apple they could have different beacons that welcome customers or advertise deals.

Tx Power determines the proximity of the bluetooth device in relation to the beacon by measuring the strength of the signal from the beacon within a 1 meter radius of the beacon. This is just a baseline and has to be calibrated in advance.

Strengths & Weaknesses

One of the clear strengths of a beacon is that it is cheap in the grand scheme of things with some manufacturers offering 3 beacons for as little as £66 with large discounts when ordered in bulk. And with each beacon lasting up to 4 years, the potential running costs amount to as little as 50p a month! Other than the amazing price beacons are light and easily portable, they can be moved and changed almost effortlessly which is a huge benefit to retailers who are constantly changing stock with whats in and out at that time.

Of course nothing is perfect : with the maximum range of a beacon is 70m with direct line of sight, and the signal can be affected by rainy weather conditions. However the weaknesses are few and far between, especially when you consider the true potential of the devices. With iBeacons constantly being improved, new innovations such as customer tracking within the retail sector will have huge implications for future digital marketing.

Conclusion

All in all I think you can agree with us when we say that iBeacons and bluetooth beacons in general are great for boosting sales and overall usage of a product in addition to promoting awareness of your brand and what you stand for. With a low cost investment that has huge payback potential, iBeacons are a smart choice for those wanting to utilise new technology in the workplace. iBeacons truly are the extra hand that you could bring to your business, elevating your company to the next level. So ask yourself, are you iBeacon ready?