What is Beacon Sensor and How to Use It for Business App

Every day the marketers’ task to reach customers is getting more difficult. A variety of information, news, social communication and other factors distract the attention of people. In this rush, a relatively new technology is trying to position itself. This technology introduces the beacon sensors, which are also known as proximity beacons or BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons.

However, beacons are designed not only for marketers. This technological solution can be applied in various areas and activities such as sports, trade shows, airports, conferences, schools, concert arenas, museums and other establishments, which need to attract and engage more customers, and learn about their preferences. Mostly, the beacons solution is aimed to increase customer engagement, which results in sales and loyalty growth. The BLE beacons are also deployed by the companies for logistics. The devices are used in the hospitals to track expensive assets or to optimize patient care.

What exactly are Beacon Sensors?

Beacons are small always-on transmitters, which use Bluetooth Low Energy technology to broadcast signals to nearby portable devices (tablets and smartphones). The action range is around 300 feet (90 meters).

The beacon sensors only transmit data, but not receive. The nearby devices are detected and digital messages are sent to the target devices. Some people compare beacon sensors with lighthouses, which are able to send a signal and make aware the surrounding devices of their existence.

Nowadays, the beacons are used in conjunction with mobile applications. Such applications receive a universally unique identifier to perform various functions such as physical location of a device, tracking customers, triggering a location-based action (check-in or push notification).

History of BLE Beacons

The history of Bluetooth technology, which was knows as short-link radio, began in 1989. The technology was initiated by Ericsson Mobile Company in order to develop wireless headsets. Since then, the Bluetooth technology has experienced a long way of development and several generations.

As for the more narrow meaning of BLE beacons, their history began in 2013, when the first BLE beacon protocol called iBeacon was introduced by Apple. iBeacon is not a physical product, but a standard of Apple embedded in iOS7. This system allows the Apple devices such as iPad and iPhone scan the available Bluetooth devices nearby and response their signals.

Another prominent company, Google, announced its beacon sensor technology a bit later – in 2015. Google called its technology after a U.K. famous lighthouse – Eddystone. The main difference of Eddystone from iBeacon is that the Google’s platform is open source. The other distinctions are associated with the implementations of platforms.

However, these two protocols are not the only ones, since the history of BLE beacons knows also AltBeacon and URIBeacon. The first one is the first open source analogue to iBeacon. The second one is a platform to send an URL instead of transmitting an identifier.

How does it work?

BLE beacons are used to broadcast signal on short distance. It differs from the ordinary Bluetooth technology by the lower battery consumption. In addition, the costs for beacons are lower by 60-80%. Bluetooth is mostly used for complex applications with greater data capacity. Beacon sensors are a perfect solution for simple apps, which require small periodic data transmission.

Some people compare beacons with other tracking options such as GPS and Wi-Fi. BLE beacons have a large advantage of them, because none of these known technologies can provide a reliable pinpoint of a portable device inside buildings. Beacons send push notifications and are one-way transmission channel, which is a benefit in terms of confined space. You do not have to spend time and battery to pair your devices compared to Bluetooth. At the same time, the signal range of BLE beacons is around 90 meters and can be extended up to 450 meters.

Beacon Technology Protocols

As it was mentioned above, the main BLE beacon protocols are iBeacon by Apple, Eddystone by Google and AltBeacon by Radius Networks. All these technologies provide generally similar functions, however, the have own peculiarities, which make them standing out against the competitors.

iBeacon

This is a pioneer among beacon protocols. It supports both iOS and Android. The BLE sensors, which use iBeacon, broadcast a Universal Unique Identifier (UUID), which communicates with an installed mobile app. It is widely used protocol, which is rather simple for implementation.

AltBeacon

This protocol appeared in 2014, having become the first open-source beacon protocol. AltBeacon supports all mobile operating systems and is more flexible when dealing with a customized source code.

Eddystone

This Google’s protocol provides the largest functionality among the competitors. It is possible to broadcast three frame types (URL, UID and TLM) via Eddystone. The protocol also works with iOS and Android. In fact, Eddystone embodied the best features of iBeacon and AltBeacon.

How Beacon Sensors Can Be Used for Business

Probably, the first case of beacons use for business was registered on December 6, 2013. On this day, the Apple Company has activated iBeacons in its 254 retail stores across the USA. Then the sensors were used by McDonalds to provide special offers in its stores.

The BLE beacons have a wide range of use options in numerous areas. The main advantage of this technology is that you can use them to send informational and advertising information to your customers or buyers. In general, beacons serve as a bridge between the ideas, offers, information, ads of a company or establishment and a user. You can position multiple beacons inside an area, like an airport, store, museum, pub, concert hall, and broadcast relevant information to portable devices in the proximity. As a result, the users receive your information and can react to, share with, or use it for navigation or other purposes depending on the received message.

Marketers should use the Bluetooth beacon sensors as a way to communicate with potential customers. The companies using beacons obtain targeting advantages in brick-and-mortar terms. The business use of beacon sensors provides numerous benefits.

  • More customer insight can be achieved due to beacons. E.g., a retailer can learn how long and where exactly a customer spends in its store. This information can be used for some retargeting or update of an advertising network or an app.
  • Increase of customers’ loyalty. You can promote click-and-collect orders and reward physical presence of customers in the store. Beacons is what you need to provide such information.
  • Increase of sales. A use of beacon sensors in combination with an app can increase the orders of services or products. This result is clearly observed in stadiums during sports events. The visitors receive messages via beacons and a stadium’s app about offers of beverages and food that promotes sales by times.

Naturally, the use of BLE beacons is not limited with the options above. Everything depends on your fantasy and creativity.

Costs to Develop a Beacon Project

The above-mentioned companies (Apple and Google) do not produce own beacons (at least for now). Such companies as Estimote, Aruba, Gimbal, BlueSense, Sensorberg, Rad Beacon, and many others are the vendors of various beacon sensors that differ in action range, battery type, and other factors.

The beacons themselves are not expensive. The price for a sensor ranges from $5 to $50 depending on action rate, battery capacity and other features.

However, a beacon project consists of not only the beacon sensors. Actually, the cost of a beacon project depends on the targets. These can include sending push notifications, increasing customer engagement, providing indoor navigation, providing proximity payments, and many others. Based on your goal, you need to calculate your costs for developing an app (if necessary), costs for hardware and other accompanying costs.

Mobile app is the key factor, which defines the cost of a beacon project. You need an app to get your customers attracted to the provided information. Two options are available. You may develop a custom app or use a third party app. The first option is cost-based and requires more time and effort for the development of what you need. Its main benefit is that in the end you receive a software product, which completely refers to your requirements. Using a third party application limits your capabilities and control. However, this option is cost-effective and provides a large user base.

Creating a mobile app is not the integral part of a beacon project, because you may use the above-mentioned Eddystone-URL beacon protocol, which requires no app. This protocol, also known as The Physical Web, interacts with a user via the website. Hence, a user needs a browser to receive messages. Unfortunately, this option limits your capabilities, while its action depends on the fact whether a user follows a transmitted link or not.

The hardware costs are the clearest element in a beacon project. You need to choose a manufacturer and buy beacon sensors. Depending on the type of beacon, the price varies from 5$ to $50. The beacons can be standalone or connected to power supply. The lifespan of sensors also influence on the price. Some beacons can run for around 5 years. The next pricing factor is signal range. The more the range, the higher the price. Be ready to pay more for weatherproofed sensors or beacons equipped with temperature or motion sensors.

API is another key factor to be considered. To manage your beacon project you require a content management system or an API. Take into account the cost of a beacon platform.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to calculate the exact cost of a beacon project. The price depends on the purpose and various components.