What Is Beacon Technology And Why It’s Here To Stay

March 2, 2016 by guest author, Jon Sproule

Guest Post: Milla Tomova & Nadia Terzieva, 2point0 Concepts

You’ve probably heard about Bluetooth beacon technology, and wonder what it’s all about. Simply put, these gadgets are awesome, cheap and have a myriad of applications for your business.

Beacons are small devices that can talk to a receiver (such as a smartphone with an appropriate app installed) when it’s located near them. That makes them perfect for sending customized messages/ads/instructions relative to users’ locations; hence their applications are limitless.

Beacon technology can be used in-store, at events, for wayfinding, even automation. It has a place in every industry, be that retail, hospitality or education. We’ll go into example use-cases for beacons a little further on in this post.

Beacons are battery-powered, matchbox-sized and emit a one-way message that consists of three separate strings of numbers called Major, Minor and UUID, which can be custom set and reset if need be.

Why do beacons have 3 different identification numbers and not just a single unique identifier? The reason is the ability to group them.

Structure of beacon devices

Structure of beacon devices

Instruct your app to listen and trigger actions

Beacons require an app on a Bluetooth-enabled device (phone or tablet) to hear their message. Once that device is in near proximity to the beacon, a message is received by your phone/tablet via a dedicated app. This app has a spreadsheet with all beacons, their numbers and instructions on what the app should do when it picks up the beacon’s signal. When passing by a beacon, the receiving app could play a video, display a message, trigger a push notification, or get user’s attention in another way  — informing, educating or calling them to action.

Benefits of using Beacon technology:

Customer Engagement – Beacons provide a whole new level of targeted personal interaction with your audience based on where they are currently located. Grab their attention and direct it to an in-store item, offer them a discount code when they are near the bar, or push information on a museum exhibit while they are looking at and more.

Versatility – When it comes to creating a beacon experience, imagination is the only limit.

Low investment required – With prices starting at mere $1 USD, these small, efficient devices require a low starting investment to implement. The creation of the mobile app and strategy of the solution can be pricy, but fortunately, low-cost app creation platforms exist such as BlueprintApp (coming soon, powered by Twisted) that allow for the beacon technology to be implemented in the creation of your own custom app, with no coding experience required.

Accuracy – Beacons are able to get user’s exact location in all settings, including indoors, and do it better than other geo-location technologies. Beacons can tell user’s mobile phone where they are even in places where GPS signals are not picked up due to physical obstacles.

Longevity – Beacons utilize Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Bluetooth Smart, which in comparison to classic Bluetooth provides reduced energy consumption. That’s why a beacon with a single coin-size battery can emit a signal for up to 3 years before it will need a battery replacement.

No need for wifi – Mobile applications are able to pick up beacon signals and store data without having access to the internet. This feature is excellent for locations where internet signal is unreliable and intermittent. Although internet is normally required for actions such as triggering push notifications, it is entirely possible to create a beacon solution that does is completely independent of the internet.

What you need to create a Beacon-powered experience

beacons in a mall, beacon devices placed in a mall setting

Illustrating beacon devices being strategically placed within a mall setting

1. Strategically-placed Beacon network

Knowing your audience and the aim of your beacon experience, design and implement a network of strategically-located beacon devices to fit your objectives. Imagine your user’s journey and choose the beacon spots carefully to make the most out of the project.

2. Beacon-enabled mobile app

In order for your beautiful beacon network to talk to your user, it’s important that they have a beacon-enabled mobile app installed.

3. Bluetooth-enabled devices

In order to receive and enjoy the messages beacons send when user is in proximity, they need to have Bluetooth-enabled devices,  such as phones or tablets, with the dedicated app installed on them. You can either provide users with such devices upon entry to your venue, or ask them to install your app on their own devices beforehand.

4. Audience you’re designing the experience for

Last but not least, and even most importantly, you need an audience you are creating your beacon experience for.

Bluetooth Beacon Use Cases

Beacon devices used in a parking lot to guide drivers to their car

Illustrating a beacon solution installed in a parking lot to guide drivers to their car

Scenario: Mall Parking

Client visits a mall and they have the mall’s dedicated app. Beacons are placed all through the parking area and when the client returns after the shopping trip, the app can navigate them back to their car.

Scenario: Retail Store

Client enters a store and downloads the store’s app. Beacons, strategically placed in main store locations, trigger content pushed to the client’s phone when they pass near the entrance or promotes special offers when client is near the cash counter.

Contextual Information
Use Case: Museum Tour

Visitor goes to a museum that has a free downloadable app. Even better, the museum provides tablets to visitors at the entrance with the app installed. Beacons are placed all through the museum so that when a visitor passes by a Picasso painting the app on the tablet will trigger additional content on the cubism style.

We love beacons and their application so much we created the beacon-enabled MuseumApp, that allows you to create an experience where location-specific information is shown to guests as they move from exhibit to exhibit, giving them an interactive way to learn more about everything you have on display.

Case study: Thunderhead at Engage New York 2014 International Marketing Conference

Bluetooth beacons are an ideal tool for proximity marketing. To complement the Thunderhead app, a number of beacons were installed at the entrance of Engage 2014 New York, also at the bar and main conference rooms.

After installing Thunderhead app on their phones, attendees receive messages sent by beacons when passing near them. For example, beacons greet the visitor by name and a warm “Hello!” upon entering the conference. These tiny devices would later lure guests to the bar by offering discount codes for drinks and snacks straight to their smartphones.

Additionally, bluetooth beacon devices keep track of customer path. Therefore, they provide invaluable information and analytics on what interests visitors by examining which paths they more frequently take, which areas they visit the most and how long they spend at each location.

Special Cases

Visually and Hearing Impaired Users

With the ability to provide contextual information in a new way based on a visitor’s location we can make it easier for less able people to enjoy a world where they feel included. Trigger audio content to help a visually impaired user navigate through your venue or provide comprehensive visual instructions to the hearing impaired.

beacon devices, beacon technology, ibeacons, what beacons look like


Beacons are cheap, last a long time and can be used in a variety of scenarios – that’s why your initial investment in beacons is well worth your money.

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