When it comes to indoor navigation systems and location technology, everyone seems to love Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. The internet is overflowing with articles about how BLE beacon technology is the frontrunner in a sector that is already galloping along at an astounding rate. According to a 2021 article on Globe Newswire, sales of the beacons that function as the core of the Bluetooth indoor positioning system are expected to grow at a rate of 26.8% and hit $15.5B in revenue by 2025.
So, the love is there, but is love enough? Is Bluetooth wayfinding technology really all it’s cracked up to be?
In this Blog Post We’ll Examine:
• The Fundamentals of How Beacons Work Within the Context of Indoor Navigation
• The Possibilities of Bluetooth Positioning Systems
• The Challenges of BLE Beacons, Whether iBeacon or Eddystone Technology
• How a Solution to These Challenges has been Addressed by the Groundbreaking Work of Mapsted
Bluetooth Indoor Positioning: Fundamentals, Possibilities, And Shortcomings
Seeing as we’re talking about love, let’s ponder for a moment the human love aﬀair that’s been going on with modern technology these past few decades. Life without a smartphone is practically unthinkable for most folks nowadays. We could even go so far as to say that losing your phone is almost as traumatic as losing a loved one. And if we had to find our way without Google Maps, most of us would be up a virtual creek.
The Transition from Outdoor to Indoor Positioning
Finding our way is one of those things that’s been revolutionized in recent times, thanks to GPS technology. Our habits in getting from Point A to Point B when we’re driving or walking down the street have been monumentally altered by navigation software, and we’re in for even more, but with a shift. The trend is shifting from the outdoors to the indoors – and that’s where indoor positioning comes in.
An indoor positioning system (IPS) is a technology that enables us to find things in enclosed spaces where a GPS won’t work. Those things could be a store, a hospital ward, a booth at a trade show, mobile machinery in a factory, or even people. You name it, pretty much anything an individual, business, or organization might want to locate and track in an indoor venue is the object of today’s spatial intelligence technology.
Within the world of indoor location technology, there are a number of approaches, but the most widely known is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. These fall into two camps: iBeacon, a proprietary technology developed by Apple, and Eddystone, an open-source protocol developed by Google. They differ in some specifics of functionality but the overall eﬀect is pretty much equal.
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Bluetooth Indoor Navigation: Fundamentals & Possibilities
Bluetooth indoor navigation, simply put, is a network of tiny transmitters called beacons, strategically located within an interior space. These beacons work in the same way that a lighthouse works with ships at sea. Like a lighthouse, a Bluetooth beacon sends out a signal. It’s a one-way message that basically says, “Hey, I’m here!”
This outgoing signal – a very short string of information called a “packet,” akin to the beacon’s address – is received by other devices, principally smartphones carried by people in the environment. There is no connection of devices; like a beam of light going out across the sea, the signal is seen, and where it came from is noted, and that’s it.
When the transmission is received it triggers some other event, one that has been engineered by the masterminds of the mall or museum or trade show or train station in which you find yourself. The event could be something like directions to your train platform that you can access by downloading an app, or a notification for a lunch special in the food court of the mall that pops up on your phone, for example.
Indoor wayfinding is a brilliant bit of technology that enables us as commuters, consumers, and visitors to make better use of our time and to have better experiences in the places we visit. It gives the owners and administrators of the structures that welcome us a whole world of opportunities in business growth and facility management, ranging from increased sales to improved conditions of interior spaces for the benefit of all.
Shortcomings of Bluetooth-Based Location Technology: The ABCs
While the possible applications of beacon systems are vast and the advantages many, the technology does have its limitations. When we start talking about situations that require precise, real-time indoor localization, there are some drawbacks. These disadvantages are primarily in the areas of accuracy, battery life, and cost.
A – Accuracy
The beacon’s signal is a radio frequency, and like any radio frequency it can be blocked by such things as metal, concrete, water, and people (largely water), and to a lesser degree, wood, and even plastic. Electrical noise from other equipment can also impede a signal.
In indoor navigation, the radio signal emitted by beacons is not bringing you your favorite tunes. Rather, the signal is like a measuring stick for determining the position of the person or object receiving it. In the case of Bluetooth-based indoor positioning, the measuring stick isn’t in centimeters or inches but in signal strength, or RSSI, Received Signal Strength Indicator.
Seeing as position calculation is a function of signal strength, the blocking of a signal can render the calculation inaccurate. As a result, beacon data has to be combined with other technology to beef up the accuracy of position determination.
B – Battery Life
While it’s true that Bluetooth Low Energy beacons use little energy, the transmitters do generally run on batteries, which, of course, eventually run down. Depending on the power of the signal and the frequency of transmission, this might need to be done as little as every couple of years, but at some point, it will need to be done.
Some beacon models can transmit the status of battery life, which at least enables one to avoid the Sisyphean task of opening the units to check the battery status, but the fact remains that replacing batteries requires time and energy. When added to the cost of the coin battery itself, multiplied by hundreds or perhaps thousands of units, the cost of replacing beacon batteries can mount up to a chunk of change.
On the other side of the coin, the battery is functional as battery life diminishes. Like human beings, a beacon’s signal gets weaker with age, as the battery is depleted. This obviously is not so good for the spiffy software you’re running, as it relies on accurate data to work its magic.
C – Cost
Depending on what objective you have for an indoor positioning system, beacons may or may not be an economical solution. Where precision is paramount or interiors immense, beacons can be expensive to set up and scale.
For example, when full coverage is required – for purposes such as accurate wayfinding inside a university campus, hospital, or airport – you’d likely need 1-5 beacons per square meter (approximately every 10 sq ft). Using an average bulk purchase cost of $10-$15 per unit, one sees that the cost can mount up pretty quickly.
In a retail setting, if your aim is proximity marketing (precisely identifying a customer’s location in order to send them a personalized marketing message, such as special oﬀers or sales) the number of beacons needed and relative cost would be the same.
Mapsted Resolves The Challenges of Bluetooth Indoor Positioning: Easy as 1-2-3
Accuracy & Scalability
The issue of beacon inaccuracy is no longer an issue with Mapsted’s proprietary technology.
Our ever-evolving algorithm is a unique composite of elements that result in the precise pinpointing of a person’s location in any indoor space, accurate to within 1-3 meters (3-10 feet). It works in any environment and maintains precision when scaled.
To get a feel for our innovations, check out our current and pending patents.
Cost-Eﬀectiveness & Straightforward Pricing
• With Mapsted, no external equipment is required. No beacons, no WIFI.
• The client software is cloud-based and multi-tenant, which reduces costs because all users access the same interface through the internet.
• Instead of traditional licensing the service is subscription-based, eliminating software fees.
• Our pricing is scaled according to square footage and the bands are quite wide, so you can grow to a certain degree while keeping costs the same.
• Get all the details about pricing.
A Complete, Easy-to-Manage Solution
• Continually updated technology: Cutting-edge advantage.
• Seamless, automatically-integrated software revisions: One less thing to keep up with.
The global indoor positioning market is poised for phenomenal expansion. According to an abstract posted on IEEE.org, the industry is expected to reach $41 Billion by 2022.
This fantastic momentum brings with it a plethora of technologies from which to choose, many of them seeking to address the challenges of the Bluetooth beacon system we’ve discussed here.
Mapsted is among those creating innovative technology to address the limitations of popular positioning systems. We are a world leader in indoor mapping and navigation technology. Our system is hardware-free and hassle-free.
To see if Mapsted is the right fit for your business or venue, please contact us.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can Bluetooth beacons receive data?
Ans. No. Bluetooth beacons can not receive or store your data. They can only send out a signal that your phone picks up, and therefore can obtain your relative position.
Q2. Can Bluetooth beacons provide information other than the location for navigation?
Ans. Yes. Technically a beacon can be pre-programmed to respond with any action you want! For example, if a person is visiting an art exhibit, you could program a nearby beacon to send nearby phones a page dedicated to the history of the art piece!
Q3. How long do Bluetooth beacons last?
Ans. Most Bluetooth beacons require batteries that will generally last 18-24 months. Depending on the use case, some beacons will only last 6-8 months.
Q4. Where can I place beacons?
Ans. Bluetooth beacons can be set up anywhere you want to transmit information. One thing to keep in mind is that beacons depend on a strong signal to send the information they are programmed to send. Avoid placing beacons in areas where there is a chance of obstructing the signals. Concrete walls, metal, and marble have high interference rates. Ensure proper planning goes into where you place beacons for optimal performance.
Q5. What devices can support Bluetooth beacons?
Ans. Most iPhones and Android devices that run on version 4.3 or later will be able to receive signals from beacons.