Sooner than you think, beacons will transform the enterprise as we know it, seamlessly delivering relevant information to add value to our everyday lives. From guiding the visually impaired in London subways to enhancing customer experiences in retail settings, today’s beacon technology is already making physical environments digitally rich in unique ways. And, with beacon shipments expected to grow by more than 150 percent annually by 2020, these small devices are about to make an even bigger impact.
1. Streamlined efficiencies and increased productivity
Beacons will play a vital role in increasing productivity and efficiency in the enterprise. Our office environments will get smarter – knowing when conference rooms are available without the confusion of overlapping calendars, detecting employees’ movement in the workplace to eliminate the need for a time clock system, and sending company-wide announcements to employees as they walk into the building. In non-office workspaces like warehouses, sensors on the factory floor can “talk” to diagnostic monitors to improve production efficiency and reduce down time. Beacons can also be used to help workers locate supplies or alert them when they’re approaching an area of the factory floor that is dangerous if not equipped with the proper safety gear.
In the retail industry, beacons can gather relevant data to optimize flow of service and staffing, reporting to store clerks and manufacturers when the weight of product on shelf is lower than a predetermined baseline, and sending reminders to customers when they’ve passed an item on their grocery list. The technology already exists for these use cases to become a reality, and planned updates to Bluetooth technology will only make these use cases more accessible and effortless.
2. Richer, more useful information
Bluetooth 5, the next version of the technology, will increase the packet size of the messages beacons can broadcast from a 31-byte payload to a 255-byte payload, giving developers more room to include richer information within beacon transmissions. This major boost in broadcast messaging capacity will make the transferable data in beacons significantly richer and more intelligent, and will make progress toward moving away from the app-paired-to-device model to a “connectionless IoT” where there is less need to download an app or connect the app to a device. In scenarios where contextual awareness are crucial – such as hassle-free airport navigation experiences, emergency response, even smart city infrastructure that helps the visually impaired be more mobile – Bluetooth 5 will open up the opportunity to send custom information that is useful in a specific moment without connection and application barriers.
Let’s expand on the idea of a truly hassle-free airport navigation experience. If you’re running late for a flight, beacons can send you personal, useful information by popping up a URL on your phone that says, “Security line B is moving faster” or “There’s a coffee shop by your gate.” Popular airlines like American Airlines and United Airlines have started to roll out beacons, and by the end of 2018, three-quarters of airports will be using beacons to provide notices to passengers.
Bluetooth 5 updates will also improve contextual awareness in emergency response scenarios where pinpoint location is crucial to saving lives. Unlike landlines, mobile phones aren’t associated with a physical address and America’s FCC estimates that over 10,000 lives could be saved each year by improving location accuracy for emergency services.
In retail scenarios, the customer experience will be more personalized and, therefore, more valuable to both the individual and the retailer. Mega-retailers like Macy’s and Target have seen success from implementing beacons in stores, but the truth is, many initial retail implementations of beacons haven’t reached their full potential yet. While current beacon implementations can push coupons to consumers’ mobile devices as they’re passing an item of interest, Bluetooth 5 updates will enable these same beacons to push even more detailed and relevant data like links to an external website or a method of paying for the product via mobile payment.
From all the above scenarios, enterprises and their customers, employees, and audiences have much to benefit from beacons. However, security and privacy are certainly two major aspects to be diligent and aware in our increasingly connected world. Beacons are a one-way device, sending but not receiving information – it cannot track anyone. The latest available Bluetooth version, 4.2, even enables rotating addresses so individuals’ personal information cannot be tracked.
3. NEW, better, smarter (yet cost effective) experiences
Beacons will ensure the security of expensive equipment through inventory management and asset tracking. Beacons can be attached to critical equipment in places like hospitals or warehouses to push notifications to staff, in real time. Current processes of locating equipment in large warehouses can be labor intensive and costly, but the utilization of beacons cuts costs by automating inventory management, thus reducing search times and equipment loss. In a hospital setting, staff often work quickly and in reaction to emergencies, leaving them with little time to check in and out equipment with RFID tags, as is standard practice today. Beacons automate these systems and take human error out of the situation.
Office buildings will implement beacon technology to reduce costs while optimizing comfort. Imagine your personal office knowing your daily routine and accommodating your habits throughout the workday, turning your lights and AC unit on as you walk in. Similarly, public spaces like museums can save money while improving visitors’ experiences by getting rid of costly and bulky audio guides, instead using beacons and a corresponding mobile app to guide visitors.
It is clear that the potential is there for these small, cost-effective devices. Next step? Widespread adoption and implementation. As of April, there were just under 5 million beacons deployed globally, a number which continues to track ABI Research’s forecast of 8 million beacons deployed by the end of 2016 and 400 million by 2020. There is no doubt that, sooner than you think, beacons will change our lives in unthinkable ways.