Mister Beacon Episode #23

Cisco Just Became the Largest Vendor of Bluetooth Beacon Gateways

December 07, 2016

Cisco reveals that over half a million of their Meraki Wi-Fi routers in the field have built in Bluetooth hardware that enables them to act as iBeacons. Thanks to a recent cloud update, these can also be used as beacon gateways to monitor third party beacons. We talk to Colin Lowenberg who is responsible for managing the Cisco Meraki API product offering about what this means, the functionality available, how it’s being used by customers and how Cisco wants to work with other vendors in the beacon ecosystem.


  • Colin Lowenberg 00:00

    Add Wi Fi on your device almost all the time. So 90% of people are trackable with Wi Fi. Every Meraki access point that we've made for the last few years has a Bluetooth beacon in it. So many, many millions of devices deployed by Meraki. And now in the last few years, hundreds of 1000s of Bluetooth beacons already deployed in our access points. And the new feature that we've been enabled is Bluetooth scanning capability. So not only can we advertise out from the Bluetooth beacon, we can also listen in and you just flip the navel scanning and then you get a whole new functionality of ability to see all the Bluetooth devices in your network. You're listening to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem with Steve Statler.

    Steve Statler 00:53

    Welcome to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem, the podcast for location aware solution designers and entrepreneurs. My name is Steve Statler from Statler Consulting. And we do business planning, vendor selection solution design, and we're focusing on manufacturing, which is a great segue today for today's interview, which is with Colin Lowenberg, who is the guy that shepherds the API product through from Meraki Cisco is very successful, cloud based Wi Fi organization. So Colin, welcome to the show.

    Colin Lowenberg 01:34

    Thank you, Steve for having me. I'm on the product management team at Meraki as Steve said, and I'm happy to be here talking to you about the ecosystem. I've got a lot of exciting news to tell you about how we're working with an expanding our own ecosystem of developers.

    Steve Statler 01:48

    Yeah, so we have big news here, I think not just for Cisco Meraki, but actually for all of us. Because I've always believed that the infrastructure vendors are absolutely key to the acceptance of beacons by mainstream users. When Cisco offers something, then that adds a level of endorsement and a trusted supplier. And let's face it, when you do things in the beaker system, it gives a little shimmer of hope and excitement startups that are very interested in being bought by Cisco, because you've been known to do that. And obviously, Cisco's massive $49 billion of revenue 360,000 salespeople in your extended sales force. So when you have a beacon product, then that makes a difference. And you've actually had one for a while, I guess for a couple of years in in the shape of beacons in your routers. But the big news today is that in the last month, you have opened up an API that allows that to become a gateway. And we're going to talk about what does that mean? What's the functionality see a demo. The second thing I want to do is just hear from you what you are hearing from customers what they are asking you for as being one of the key guys in this space within Cisco. And then lastly, it'd be great to hear just how people can partner with you. So sound Okay, that's great. Yeah. So you've bet your focus specifically on the API aspect of of what's been happening, give us a little bit of context, I mentioned that you've been shipping product with beacons in it. Tell us a bit about that just to establish, you know, what's been going on for the last two years. And then we can talk about what you've suddenly activated in the product.

    Colin Lowenberg 03:37

    So we've seen, you know, Bluetooth beacons growing and growing within a lot of different industries. And there's a lot of battery based beacons out there, and a lot of solutions for people to deploy mobile apps that integrate with your Bluetooth beacons. And a lot of that's around the customer experience and on their mobile devices. And so we put Bluetooth beacons on our access points for the last two years. Every Meraki access point that we've made for the last two years has a Bluetooth beacon in it. So many, many millions of devices deployed by Meraki and now in the last few years, hundreds of 1000s of Bluetooth beacons already deployed in our access points, and they're built in so they're cloud managed beacon. So you can change your major minor you UID in the settings that your beacon transmits very easily from our cloud managed dashboard. And that dashboard is the single source of truth for your entire Meraki network.

    Steve Statler 04:30

    So a number of things that just tell us in your estimate what proportion of your base of routers that are out there and operational have got Bluetooth beacons embedded in.

    Colin Lowenberg 04:41

    Well over half a million devices or access points have Bluetooth built in today and are deployed by customers and online right now. So that's that's the base of Bluetooth beacons that we have out there today. We have millions of other devices that are not Bluetooth enabled, but also have Wi Fi enabled so we have millions of other Wi Fi routers that are also proven Lighting location services and consents all the nearby Wi Fi devices. And we've had that technology for for over two years, and over four years as well now. So we have both the Wi Fi and the Bluetooth capability in the same routers.

    Steve Statler 05:13

    And the Bluetooth beacons. These are basically iBeacons you've been able to have set up what the UU ID is and major, A minor device number. And so it's a way of, of of activating apps that might see those and so that's, that's pretty handy.

    Colin Lowenberg 05:33

    Absolutely, we had Bluetooth beacons. And if you go onto your Meraki dashboard, you can log in. And I'll actually share my screen right now just for a second, you could go and you can configure the advertising you UID and major minor of your Meraki network. And so you can broadcast a Bluetooth beacon from any of the Bluetooth enabled access points. And this is actually a fourth radio in the access point dedicated to Bluetooth. And we have three other Wi Fi radios in there. One of them is dedicated to scanning and listening for Wi Fi devices. And the new feature that we've enabled is Bluetooth scanning capability. So not only can we advertise out from the Bluetooth beacon, we can also listen in and you just slip enable scanning. And then you get a whole new functionality of ability to see all the Bluetooth devices in your network. So before you you know before we look at all the Bluetooth devices, you can also see what's on that Bluetooth device who makes that Bluetooth device. And you can even set an alert when that Bluetooth device comes in range or goes out of range, you can set an in and out alert. So you can see when Bluetooth devices come in range. And when they go out of range. And then the last two hours on well, it refreshed. Right now we've seen almost 200 devices on the Meraki network in the San Francisco office. So 205 to be exact.,

    Steve Statler 06:49

    What kind of devices you're seeing. So this is more than these aren't actual iBeacons. These are other Bluetooth devices. presumably?

    Colin Lowenberg 06:59

    Yeah, these are the while we broadcast and the iBeacon format will listen for any type of Bluetooth beacon that follows the BLE standards. So for example, Fitbits, I can search for Fitbit Flex, and I'll find all the Fitbit flexes in the building. As you can see, there's one flex two, that's my wristwatch right here, this I just got the fitbit flex two and upgraded. So I know this is my device right here. And I can tag those devices as well. So I can search for my name. And you can see I have an estimate beacon assigned to my name. And you can track you can tag and track different beacon devices assigned to a specific tag that you want. The most popular Fitbit that we see in the office is actually the Charge HR or charge heart rate monitor. You can see we have 14 Charge HR is in the office in the last two hours. And I can expand that out to the last week or last day to see how many Bluetooth devices are coming in and out of my building.

    Steve Statler 07:54

    Pretty cool. This is not a great way of necessarily monitoring people's smartphones. Is that correct?

    Colin Lowenberg 08:00

    That's correct. You can track a person's smartphone, if you swipe up on your device right now, you probably don't even remember, but you leave Wi Fi on on your device almost all the time. So 90% of people are trackable with Wi Fi, or Bluetooth is more around 20 to 50% of people depending on the type of person who leave Bluetooth on but that Bluetooth is not trackable on the phone unless you install some sort of app on that device to track them. Right. So people's personal cell phones.

    Steve Statler 08:27

    So generally when we use the Bluetooth radios in Beacon applications, it's listening for an Estimote beacon or a contact IO beacon and it isn't actually transmitting. And so you if you wanted to use your Meraki router, then you could potentially track it in the Wi Fi domain. But unless you've got an app that's actually turning the phone into a beacon, which generally is not something that you do it doesn't appeal to people from a privacy perspective, you wouldn't do that. So seems like this is this has got a number of useful plays. One of it is fleet management. And so what are the boundaries of what you can do in fleet management, I think just summarize what I've already had. You can see when something's appeared, you can see when something's disappeared, so maybe the battery is run out. Can you configure the beacons using this?

    Colin Lowenberg 09:22

    So today you can't configure beacons using a Meraki access point, we are open to working with the beacon vendors, and considering ways that we could interact with beacons and send out configuration messages. Today, mainly what you would use them or off the access point for is either beaconing itself or the ability to monitor and monitor and manage the list of beacons that are in your environment. So this way, if you deploy a lot of battery based beacons throughout your environment, you don't have to spend a costly amount of effort surveying and making sure your beacons are still in place every month or every year, you simply check your Meraki data feed and you can see all the Bluetooth beacons that are in range automatic quickly alert you if one disappears or runs out of battery life. So it provides a monitoring solution for beacons right in the dashboard. But what really extends beyond what we offer in our own dashboard is our API. And when you start talking about API's, you're talking about third party applications that build on top of the Meraki platform. And this is where you go beyond just the capabilities of our dashboard. And you start to say, hey, I want to pull this into my own application. And that's where the possibilities, I don't like to say they're endless, but they're much greater, you know, much greater possibilities. And we have a list of those certified developers that build on top of them are occupied form on our website, developers.meraki.com. Go check it out. If you sign up, you'll get an email from me right away and inviting you to participate as a developer and get started. And on that website, we have the details on how you can integrate with our Bluetooth beacon API.

    Steve Statler 10:53

    So I noticed least one of the solution providers there is in the asset tracking space focused on on health care, that was Stanley. So it seems like this is a great product for for asset tracking.

    Colin Lowenberg 11:08

    Yes, location API is really focused on the asset tracking use case. For a hospital environment where Eric has been very successful in the house. Well, you can see this tracking wheelchairs, tracking IV pumps in the future will or capabilities, and you can track, you know, the temperature and amperage or temperature of a room as well, as you can see, in other verticals, you see Bluetooth now becoming very popular, and the hotels resort industry. And you can track all of your made cards, you can track all of your employees, of course, with a Bluetooth enabled badge just like we do with RFID today, but now you can have that real time location transmitted to your servers or your asset tracking application automatically. And the best part about this API is that it's all cloud managed. So all this data is in our cloud, and we send it to your server or your cloud so that you can do what your data as you want. So it's your data, we want you to have access to it.

    Steve Statler 12:04

    Nice and manufacturing another great vertical for this certainly something that I have been focused on, if you think about the ups and downs of the economy, people are always going to need to make stuff and certainly make food. And so the idea of putting beacons on pallets of goods. And if you've already got Wi Fi in there, then it's a great opportunity to use those Wi Fi routers to do tracking. And let's get into some specifics. So you're not just tracking prisons, you're tracking location as well correct.

    Colin Lowenberg 12:39

    So you can see the access points MAC address, the tags or region that you assigned to that access point what floor it's on the client device, the Wi Fi, MAC address, or the Bluetooth MAC address. And it's the same API for both Bluetooth and Wi Fi. So we do the same API and one API, you can get a feed of all your Bluetooth and all your Wi Fi access points, any last minute, and you see when you first saw them when you last saw them the signal strength. And then we provide the location, we provide the location in a format. So you get the latitude longitude of the device, and the xy coordinate on the map that you place in our dashboard. So it uses Google Maps, essentially. And you can plug this latitude longitude into any major application platform. So it's an it's an easy to understand JSON format. So it's very human readable, and very easy for applications to program on top of.

    Steve Statler 13:27

    Can you show us what the dashboard looks like that that tracks the location of things?

    Colin Lowenberg 13:33

    So the Bluetooth settings I've shown you, I've shown you the Bluetooth clients list, what you can do with our solution is also build an analytics solution and see how many devices are passing by. And this is not the map I'll show you in a second. But you can see how many passer bys are walking by an area how many people are visiting and staying in an area and how many people are connecting to the Wi Fi. So this is the Wi Fi analytics now enhancing everything by adding Bluetooth to the same API. So you can build these analytics for both Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Or perhaps, you know, one, just maybe you just want to focus on Bluetooth, or just want to focus on Wi Fi. But now you have the data so you can decide what you want to do with all this data around Bluetooth devices. And if you want to see a dashboard view of all of our devices walking around on a map, we have that as well. So the what we call that the location heat map, and this is our Meraki office right now. So I'm sitting on the fifth floor, and I'm sitting in the room right here. This is the webinar room. And you can see there's a heat map, and it shows where people are spending the most time. And that can actually play back over time where people spend the most time in the building. And so you'll see people move around on the map, and you can play back the last 24 hours or you can jump back to a different day and playback that day.

    Steve Statler 14:50

    That's very cool. So how much extra does this cost?

    Colin Lowenberg 14:54

    That's a great question. I love that answer that question because the answer is nothing. So there's no additional cost Have the analytics that are built into our dashboard, or to have the heat map that's built into our dashboard. So if you want this capability, all you need to do is buy a Meraki access point and go, you can go to any reseller and buy him Rocky access points from them. And you buy a license with that access point that grants you access to the entire dashboard. And you can configure and control your entire network from a single dashboard.

    Steve Statler 15:23

    So this dashboard is the same dashboard I'd use for for Wi Fi management. So I think what the CIOs are gonna like is this is kind of simplicity, it's not proliferating, you're kind of minimizing the number of vendors you're potentially slotting into existing infrastructure that your staff are familiar with. So if you're a big retailer or something like that, that already has this, that I imagine that's going to be pretty appealing. What are you seeing in terms of so it's a cloud system, so presumably, you kind of have a sense of, of how many beacons are being seen across your customer base, any numbers, you can share that?

    Colin Lowenberg 16:05

    Absolutely, and just, you know, obviously, the numbers will be out of date. And by the next, you know, in a few months, when we have more and more customers adopting our new API starting to use it. If you can see my stream. Now, I'm sharing a slide, we have over 10,000 integrations done today. And that's across all of our API's Wi Fi, Bluetooth, and our dashboard API and our slash page API. So that's, that's the number of customers that have gone beyond the Meraki dashboard and added some other feature on top of it. And we have over 1000 developers that have registered on the developers@meraki.com website. And I've validated 50 solutions, and soon to hopefully have 100 solutions that have deployed and actually been successfully deployed by a customer. And I recommend them to our other customers on the website. Now there's only we see about 10 million Wi Fi devices per day. With our access point deployment, we see about 2 million slash pageviews per day. But for Bluetooth, it's a staggering 50 million Bluetooth devices over a week's time. So divide that by seven to get the daily see the results, you know, 7 million Bluetooth devices a day or 50 million per week that you can track. And if you're a retailer or a hotel, you can start identifying and tracking these devices. Obviously, you need to get people to opt in to that tracking. Or you could use this to track different assets.

    Steve Statler 17:28

    That's a staggering number. And I'm guessing the large proportion of that are things like Fitbits, as opposed to classic Bluetooth standalone beacons.

    Colin Lowenberg 17:42

    Yeah, absolutely. I think wearable, the wearable market has been in the real boom for Bluetooth in general. And since we launched this new asset tracking API for Bluetooth, what we've done is we put the same Bluetooth into the same API as our Wi Fi CMX API. So we're able to actually have the same partners that do Wi Fi tracking to now do Bluetooth tracking. And yeah, there are a lot of different Bluetooth type devices out there. Certainly, there's beacons that you can plug into a laptop, small battery based beacons that you can stick on the back of anything that's mobile, there's infrastructure beacons out there. But you can also just use the beacon in our access point to do the same thing as those, and also the mobile devices or software beacons, those mobile devices can also be cut out and be tracked. But yes, so the big market is really the massive ecosystem that you talked about. And I look at your blog, and I really enjoy it because I can see your review of all the different beacon vendors out there from Estimote. To radius to contact IO. We've got some relationships with them, because they're beacons work with our access points, so we can detect their beacons. And certain partners like swirl and Piper are actually delivering applications to our customers using their Bluetooth beacons. And using our access points to also monitor there's so we're it's kind of a a complementary system between the ecosystem and now the new Meraki API that can monitor them. Secondly, the wearable market is huge and very quickly growing. So I have a Fitbit. And as you can see on our dashboard, dozens of other people at Meraki Authorware that still work, but we're not tracking them. And identifying them. We're tracking them only anonymously.

    Steve Statler 19:19

    What kind of accuracy should we expect to get from this kind of setup? Because people put your routers up with a view to establishing connectivity not necessarily having you know, really dense populations that brewery kind of expensive. So what what's realistic in terms of accuracy levels?

    Colin Lowenberg 19:38

    So if you look at that map of our of our floorplan right here, you can see there's quite a few devices on this map. And the blue devices are the connected devices in the grade devices are the unconnected devices. And the accuracy that we typically would see would be five to 10 meters five meters is not that accurate in terms of, you know, hey, I'm standing at this Table five meters is, hey, I'm standing in this room. And that's really the goal of that, that overall infrastructure tracking. But you can deploy more access points to get more accuracy. So if I take a look at the third floor of Meraki, you're gonna see there's a lot a higher density of access points. And typically, if you want to get more accuracy on a floor plan, you're going to need more access points to do it. And so if I turn off the heat map right here, and you'll see the access points in green, so we have 60 access points on the third floor and only 30 access points on the fourth floor. So there's a much higher density of access points in order to get that increase of accuracy. That's double the number of access points. And it does give you more accuracy by doing that. However, if you really want high accuracy, and you want to know where someone is in within one foot, in that case, I would recommend working with all the ecosystem vendors, because we support all of those beacons out there, you could use any of those beacons to track someone down to the one foot accuracy with a mobile app. And that's where you're trying to engage users with a mobile app that tells you where they are on the map in a very high accuracy, whereas our access points are more gonna give you the region level or the area that they're in. And so you can see that they're they're hanging out in a specific area, as opposed to sitting at a specific desk.

    Steve Statler 21:17

    So let's talk about some examples of where customers are using this sort of applications. We've talked about healthcare. Let's because manufacturing's kind of I'm really hot on that. One thing that occurs to me is doesn't want a house have tend to have Wi Fi, presumably they don't want their workers surfing the web and that sort of thing.

    Colin Lowenberg 21:41

    In the warehouse, obviously, you're not trying to provide Wi Fi or guest access in a warehouse environment. And that's, that's pretty common. That you're in a warehouse, you're really trying to track pallets, or forklifts, or VIPs. You may also want to track your employees, and maybe not necessarily your employees, but in a contractor situation. So I've worked in oil and gas, I spent seven years designing why wayfinding and location tracking systems. And the most valuable location was in contractor tracking in an oil refinery, you can track where people are at all times, for safety reasons, you need to know where they are. Because if an emergency happens, you need to evacuate that area and locate someone if they're injured, as well. That capability also enables you to track the time that people are spending at work versus at lunch, or not even at work at all. And so someone could bill you for 12 hours a day for 12 people, and you're paying 144, you know, times times that number of people for hours of man work. And that's a lot of hours that they're spending for one day, whereas if they only showed up with 10 people, and they only worked for 10 hours and took a three hour lunch, they're overcharging you quite a bit. And so the goal here is not to say, Hey, you're cheating, but to identify the worst actors and the best actors and rate and rank who's actually showing up and putting in the most hours. So it can be very useful for that productivity tracking. In that industrial. I would say in the retail space. beacons are more about customer engagement. And and asset tracking is more about tracking your where what parts of the store are most impacted by marketing and where you should be marketing more. So they use Wi Fi generally to track out what part of the store or which stores, or which regions of stores across all of your sites, which ones are getting the most foot traffic. And typically, that's where Wi Fi is a better solution than Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 23:35

    Just to actually bring back something from a conversation that we had offline, you mentioned that you're seeing introduction of Wi Fi in the manufacturing environment, because people have Wi Fi enabled barcode readers and there's tablets that are used for workforce automation. So I think that coverage of the market is increasing more and more. So cool. And you've got a great sandwich shop example, using your beacon offering. Tell us about that.

    Colin Lowenberg 24:03

    Yeah, absolutely. One of the one of the best things that you can do with a with a Bluetooth beacon. And a mobile app is provide some value to a customer, not just advertise and a coupon or an offer, but actually interact with them in an engaging way. And so one customer has built a mobile Watch app, a mobile app for ordering online and then actually integrated that with our access points for Wi Fi and Bluetooth location based notifications to let them know when their sandwiches ready. So this way, you can look at your watch and say, Hey, I'd like to order the same sandwich. You can look at your phone and order a different sandwich that you'd like. You order that online. And then when you walk into the store and the restaurant, you can get a notification says Hey, welcome back. Your order is ready, please proceed to the pickup window. And so this is a use case that we see a lot of the QSR is now attracted to and our customers are really leading that's because we'd have the Bluetooth enabled access points so they are ready to go and anyone who has more Have you already should investigate what their options are with our existing partners or consider building it themselves?

    Steve Statler 25:06

    Yeah, I think anytime you're cutting out the customers need to tap or swipe, if you're just making things a little bit quicker, someone's hands not going to explode. Because you're doing this, you're just making life a little bit faster, more convenient. And that's, that's, that's fantastic. Okay, let's wrap up. But before we go, I'd like to hear a little bit from you about two partner related things basically, tell us about the kinds of partners that you have the kinds of partners you're you're looking for. And then we'll finish off and talk a bit about how people engage with you.

    Colin Lowenberg 25:37

    So the Meraki developers program, if you go to developers on rocky.com, and you're interested in becoming one of our partners, just go to that website, sign up. And we'll make sure to give you the gear that you need to get started and make sure that you have the access to the information that you need in order to integrate with us. So we want more and more developers to build on top of them are happy cloud platform. And we don't have any fees in order to be a member of this program. So once you join, and you get some customers to actually deploy your application and you prove that you're really delivering value to customers, then we can talk about partnership and show how you are how good you are to our customers. And so on our website today, you can see, you know, a lot of the group of our partners right now there's 35 On the website, very quickly expanding and it's a new program within Cisco to expand the ecosystem on top of Meraki and a lot of that is tying in with that ecosystem and the Bluetooth beacons. So several of these companies on the website are already deploying Bluetooth beacons for customers.

    Steve Statler 26:35

    That's exciting. So it's, it's the what I would call orchestration layer products that people that are enabling applications, but it's also the beacon vendors themselves because you're complementary to Bluetooth beacons. It's exciting stuff going on. I really appreciate your taking time to talk with us. I do believe there's clearly lots of things that you're doing. It's a very powerful offering. There's also lots of space for other people. And I think when Cisco jumps into this area, it's a great vote of confidence for for the market. So definitely all boats rising. Colin Loewenberg and Cisco Meraki thanks so much.

    Colin Lowenberg 27:12

    Hey, thank you very much, Steven, for having me.

    Steve Statler 27:22

    So yeah, what were the three tracks that you decided you were going to take to Mars? obviously, bom,

    Colin Lowenberg 27:29

    Obviously David Bowie. The very, it's perfect for for space travel. And it also is one of my favorite songs, and was my mighty nickname at university. So I guess that I went to space space camp as well. So I you know, I'm always prepared for the inevitable trip to space.

    Steve Statler 27:57

    It's funny, so many people in our industry have that kind of love, Science, Space Science Fiction. It's just I think it's what gives people the energy to do the crazy hours you have to do and fires up their imagination.

    Colin Lowenberg 28:13

    The next time would be Island in the Sun, which I didn't realize he also has, at least the solar system being good. And it says we are on an Island in the Sun. But yeah, it's just a really nice song by Weezer. And it's kind of like, timeless. Good song. And then on top of that, I would probably put on the road again, by Willie Nelson On the Road. And that would be because I spent like seven years traveling on the road. And I was always back on the road again after some period of not traveling, used to just living out of the suitcase and traveling as a consultant. Yeah, I spent a long time designing wayfinding systems and location tracking RTLs systems admitted being on the road and traveling to visit sites rather than working in an office with a typical chair.

    Steve Statler 29:27

    Do you do get out much now?

    Colin Lowenberg 29:32

    Sure, I get to travel. I'm in product management. But you know, product marketing is sort of part of that job title. So I do end up going to Cisco Live. And I ended up going to different conferences like neurosis in Germany, where there's a lot of renewed interest in location tracking or integration with Meraki and it often. Also, go have the These talks about privacy. And these use cases for customers. I do travel probably once a month or once every two months.

    Steve Statler 30:07

    So less than three days. Well that's great three great songs. Thank you very much.