Beacons are devices that use a new type of Bluetooth technology called the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to send signals to smartphones to pinpoint their location within accuracy of about a meter. Similar to a lighthouse beacon signaling a ship, nearby smartphones use these location signals to trigger actions such as location based promotions (through mobile coupons), navigation, notifications, or simply store the data for analysis.
IBeacon, from Apple, is a proximity awareness feature in some of the newer iPhones and iPads. The location-based software detects when a user dwells or departs from a Beacon's area as well as estimating distance from the Beacon. These events can trigger a reaction in the user's iPhone or iPad to which they can respond via an app. The beacon hardware is designed to broadcast over a small area, so it can even run on low power and only a small button cell battery can be used to keep it running for months. The iBeacon itself only transmits its presence, so it cannot detect or engage any recipients unless they have a receiving device such as an app on their iPhone or iPad. Therefore the value in any iBeacon solution is in the software that interprets and connects with the Beacon, not the physical iBeacon itself.
IBeacons transmit a signal once a second that smartphones can see, a bit like a lighthouse. Most retail locations choose to place them near the front entrance, so the app on the customer's smartphone knows as soon as they walk in the door. Beacons are generally the size of a coin, need no external power (batteries last anything from 6 months to 9 years) and they do not need an internal connection. Most beacons have a maximum range of 50m, but because they use wireless technology to broadcast they are affected by objects around them. For example a wall or a person in the way will reduce their range. In a retail environment a beacon will normally have a range of 10-20m depending on where it is positioned and how it is configured.
Do not get surprised if you receive a discount coupon on your smart phone while passing through a store in a mall. If used properly and wisely, iBeacons can help your increase your sales and achieve targeted marketing by offering targeted digital coupons.
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