GPS is suitable for outdoor positioning but indoor positioning was still a problem. Therefore, it needed some kind of technology to cope with such a situation. To solve such a problem, sensors came into existence. Now almost every smartphone contains sensor technology. Many methods can provide indoor positioning with accuracy. Some of those methods include; Wi-Fi Access Points (AP), Ultrasound Based Tracking, UWB Ranging, etc. But, the indoor beacon has a greater upper hand over all these technologies.
The technologies used today for indoor positioning vary in terms of accuracy of positioning, pricing, size, User Experience, and maintenance. Still, all those devices have made drastic improvements in the last few decades. The other positioning methods include Ultra-Wideband (UWB), Magnetic Field Detection, Near Field Communication, Gyroscope, and Accelerometer.
Indoor Beacon Technology
Indoor Beacon can sense a user if it’s near the beacon and send information to smartphones. They provide very accurate information about users’ location. Bluetooth LE Beacon moves signals to nearby devices.
Technology is evolving at a very fast pace. And with that, the Bluetooth Beacons are getting popular and in demand. Due to the global manufacturing of this technology, its usage is increasing. Bluetooth Beacons are easy to install, configure, maintain, and are cheap. That’s why this technology is available for almost everyone. These devices are helping multiple organizations to improve the user experience.
Is Indoor Beacon Worth It?
Positioning systems have contributed a wide role in the everyday lives of people. It is becoming extremely popular especially after GPS technology became available for the public in the late 90s. Nowadays, almost everybody on the globe has a smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, etc. The interesting fact is that all of these devices support GPS Satellite Tracking as well.
GPS has proved its capabilities for outdoor positioning. Now, we tend to shift towards indoor positioning too. For indoor positioning, new technologies are required because GPS-Satellite Positioning isn’t applicable, or indoors, narrow packed streets, walls, windows, wires, or any other obstacles. Alternatively, indoor beacons have made it possible to make indoor positioning come into existence. There could be several reasons why an organization would be bound to invest in purchasing Bluetooth Beacons for indoor positioning. It could be; ease of navigation, sending or receiving target information, improved accessibility, accurate positioning, and much more.
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What separates an indoor beacon from Wi-Fi positioning?
Bluetooth Beacon is low energy transmitter, which means they consume less power. The reasons are they use lithium batteries instead of AA batteries and most last up to 3 years. Wi-Fi consumes high energy which causes the batteries to drain faster. Indoor Beacon can be used with Android and IOS both but Wi-Fi positioning is not applicable with IOS. The reason is that it IOS does not support ranging features, which ultimately affects the positioning accuracy.
Bluetooth beacons do not require any internet connection, allowing features such as navigation, messaging, and notifications. Wi-Fi on the other hand requires internet for positioning. Wi-Fi can be overloaded sometimes when multiple users are connected to the same network. It can get slow and can ultimately cause delay which leads to a bad user experience. Also, Wi-Fi signals cannot penetrate through solid objects.
Working of Indoor Beacons
BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is a low-energy transmitter. Beacons are installed mostly on the ceiling or walls. Then, only BLE Enabled phone is required. Both Android and IOS devices support this technology. Wi-Fi however doesn’t support indoor positioning on IOS since it doesn’t have ranging capability enabled in it.
The working of Bluetooth Beacon is simple. It sends packets of data to its nearby receiving devices via radio waves. Then any device in that range can respond to the signal accordingly.
A Bluetooth Beacon System works upon the availability of the following 3 things:
- At least one more Bluetooth beacon device
- Mobile application
- User’s permission
A smartphone must have an Android 4 or higher or iOS 7 or higher respectively. Indoor Beacon uses different channels as compared to Classic Bluetooth. It has a theoretical maximum radios distance of less than 100m. The response time depends upon the beacon itself. It may delay a bit in a vast and dense area. In a small area, it will respond quicker. Without any physical blockage, most Bluetooth Beacons can transmit radio signals up to 30meters. Battery consumption increases however if the range increases.
Common Use Cases of Indoor Beacons
Major use cases of indoor beacon technology include:
- Indoor Events
- Online Banking
- Home Automation
Apart from the above-mentioned use cases, Bluetooth Beacons cover the vast majority of many other fields as well. Also, because of the well-known name of Classic Bluetooth, BLE had an easier time gaining trust among developers and the ones using it.
Working of Wi-Fi Positioning Devices
In a Wi-Fi positioning system, transmitters send packets of data to Wi-Fi Access Points (APs). It uses the existing infrastructure of APs to calculate where the device may be located. There are two methods for location tracking. They are RSSI and Fingerprinting Technique. RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) performs approximate location tracking but it may sometimes lead to low accuracy due to obstruction.
Fingerprinting technique uses RSSI data to determine the position. RSSI data includes the packets of information related to the movement and positioning. Fingerprinting depends on the environment. The fingerprint will update upon even slight movements. This method gives accurate positioning as compared to its previous methods in Wi-Fi. The downside of this technique is that it requires expensive equipment, regular maintenance as well as complex methods.
Deployment cost for the indoor beacon is very cheap as compared to Wi-Fi-based indoor positioning. Most can work for up to 3 years. On the other hand, Wi-Fi-based positioning needs daily maintenance and is also not very reliable due to high power consumption. It is also very expensive.
Bluetooth Beacons are constantly in development; to meet the most current demands and requirements of the market. These devices come in various sizes and configurations depending on the usage of those who are buying them. Ultimately, it all depends on the strategy and need of any specific organization or person. Some may find Wi-Fi more suitable while others may go for indoor beacons.
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