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The Basics

How to Effectively Use Bluetooth Location Beacons for Asset Tracking

January 06, 2023
How to Effectively Use Bluetooth Location Beacons for Asset Tracking
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How to Effectively Use Bluetooth Location Beacons for Asset Tracking

Bluetooth location beacons can be used in a wide range of scenarios including asset tracking and indoor positioning. They offer companies a cost-effective and efficient method of employing Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to address diverse business objectives and requirements. Bluetooth beacons can be used to support many types of indoor positioning systems and location-based IoT applications.

What is a Bluetooth Location Beacon?

Bluetooth location beacons are small devices typically measuring less than 10 cm in length and 5 cm in width. They provide one-way communication by generating radio signals that contain small amounts of data. The beacon’s data is captured by applications running on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-enabled smartphones, tablets or other Bluetooth devices such as purpose built readers. Bluetooth beacons typically only send information and do receive data from the phone or tablet. In most cases, the information on the beacon is set when the device is configured.

The act of broadcasting a Bluetooth “advertising packet” (the packets that proceed pairing between Bluetooth devices to multiple potential listening devices (multicasting) is referred to as beaconing. The packet of data that is transmitted is known as a beacon. The hardware that transmits the beacon packet is also referred to as a beacon. To recap, Bluetooth beacon hardware devices transmit radio packets called beacons.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons can be deployed in stationary positions at a Point-of-Interest (PoI), such as the entrance to a store, or attached to mobile assets. When the hardware that transmits Bluetooth beacons is attached to a mobile asset it is described as a Bluetooth tag. This flexibility enables beacon technology to be used for diverse purposes that include monitoring supply chain components, delivering pertinent information to nearby smartphones, facilitating indoor navigation, and other location services. Beacons are typically battery-powered with smaller more advanced devices being capable of sourcing or harvesting energy without batteries from ambient radio waves.

How does Bluetooth Beacon Tracking Work?

Bluetooth beacons work using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This version of Bluetooth consumes less power and sends less data than the classic Bluetooth protocol. Beacons transmit data continuously (with short pauses between each beacon), making it important that battery-powered devices have sufficient capacity to address the needs of a specific application. Battery life can range from a few months to several years based on how the device is used and how large the battery is. Beacon technology is generally implemented with Bluetooth Low Energy rather than WiFi due to its reduced energy requirements.

Beacons communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices such as iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, or other specialist IoT devices. The beacon typically does not transmit large amounts of informative data. Instead, the beacon transmits a unique identifier which is converted by the receiving application into meaningful information. A beacon can also transmit a small amount of customizable data such as temperature sensor information or battery life status. The identifier triggers the app on a nearby mobile device to start listening to the beacon. Subsequent data provides the app with further processing instructions.

There are a variety of beacon protocols or formats that are layered on top of the standard Bluetooth advertising packet format. One of the most popular is Apple’s iBeacon format which is designed to wake up applications that may have been exited or are in the background on an iPhone. The sensitivity of the phone to the incoming iBeacon packets can be programmed by application developers and can be gated based on signal strength. This functionality enables developers to specify three ranges within which a beacon will trigger an application to execute the desired functionality designated as follows.

  • Far allows mobile devices to do something as soon as they are in range of a beacon. An example is being notified when walking past a building equipped with a beacon.

  • Near instructs the mobile device to take an action when you are closer, for instance if you have entered the same room in a house as the beacon. The functionality may be to generate a greeting or provide more information about your current location.

  • Immediate enables the app to take an action when you are very close to or touching a beacon. An example would be information provided to you regarding available discounts when checking out of a retail establishment.

Effective Ways to Use Bluetooth Location Beacons

The method in which Bluetooth beacons work to unobtrusively communicate with Bluetooth devices, without requiring the user to tap or scan anything makes them an attractive solution for many issues facing multiple businesses and industries.

Customer navigation

Bluetooth location beacons can be used to facilitate both outdoor and indoor navigation. A business can deploy beacons on billboards that provide location specific data intended to communicate messages specific to the billboard. The communication initiated by the beacon can result in the customer’s mobile app displaying directions and information on sales or special offers.

Once within the store, location services provided by Bluetooth beacons can direct customers to specific departments or points of interest. This can save shoppers time that would have been spent in looking for a salesperson to direct them or furnish information on product availability.

Enhancing customer experiences

Bluetooth technologies can be used to enhance the customer experience in brick-and-mortar retail establishments. Shoppers can be offered targeted advertisements and coupons based on their location within the store and the types of items in which they are interested. This kind of personalized advertising appeals to customers and enables businesses to take targeted marketing to a new level.

Monitoring asset location and movement

Bluetooth tags can be attached to or embedded in virtually any type of trackable asset, making them invaluable in modern business and industry. A manufacturer can use a Bluetooth reader to provide visibility into its inventory and resources as part of an automated assembly line. This can lead to increased productivity by eliminating unexpected shortages of key components and reducing time spent searching for misplaced equipment.

Optimizing workplaces

Workplaces can be optimized in multiple ways using Bluetooth technologies including providing visibility into employee location, their proximity to hazards and finding workers during emergencies.

Analytics and business intelligence

Companies can use the information gathered from a system of Bluetooth location beacons to monitor and analyze the movement of devices, customers, employees, and other tagged assets over time. Scarce or costly equipment can be located and its use optimized. This enables smarter business decisions that can contribute to an organization’s growth and the ability to compete in its market sector.

Wiliot’s Bluetooth Location Beacon Solution

Wiliot’s IoT Pixels offer customers the flexibility of battery-powered or battery-free energy-harvesting Bluetooth Low Energy beacons. In situations where battery life is a concern, battery-free IoT Pixels provide a unique solution. They are postage stamp-sized computers that source energy from surrounding radio waves to provide what is effectively a limitless lifetime. 

IoT Pixels are distributed in reels that can be easily installed on or embedded in assets ranging from crates and cases to garments. The versatile nature of IoT Pixels makes them suitable for any type of organization fromretail enterprises totransportation and shipping companies. IoT Pixels send information to theWiliot Cloud which processes the raw data into powerful and actionable insights that can transform a company’s supply chain. Alerts, and exceptions generated from the Wiliot Cloud ensure that you always have the current and relevant information needed to successfully guide your business.