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Mister Beacon Episode #158

Finding the Angle - The Bluetooth Angle-of-Arrival Tech Creates Competitive Rush

December 07, 2022

In the past, Bluetooth Angle of Arrival (AoA) was considered an exotic niche market, where high accuracy (sub meter) Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) systems used for asset tracking were rare and unusual. With the advent of the Bluetooth SIG’s V5.1 standard new vendors have entered the market and so now we have competition, maturity and growth in this segment.

This week we talk to a vendor we haven’t covered before, BlueIoT, who are based in China but are scaling internationally. Checkout our interview with Sean Li, one of their senior engineers who is deploying BlueIoT systems. He introduces us to their offering explaining what it delivers, how much it costs, their competitive positioning, and where they are seeing their deployments growing.


  • Steve Statler 00:00

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon, ambient IoT podcast. Great to have you here. And this week, we're going to be drilling into a vendor that I had not come across before. Blue IoT, they are an angle of arrival solution provider. angle of arrival is a great technology, it's a means of using Bluetooth tags, Bluetooth beacons to get very accurate asset tracking as ambient, IoT starts to, to mature and we start to connect more and more things with the internet, I think it's really important to have choice and competition, all boats will rise, the segment will get bigger. So check out this interview with blue IoT, they're based in China. And I think you'll find it interesting. The Mr. Beacon ambient IoT podcast is sponsored by William bringing intelligence to every single thing. Shawn, welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast.

    Sean Li 01:11

    Thank you. Thank you, thanks for this opportunity.

    Steve Statler 01:16

    Yeah, I am. I've been fascinated by Bluetooth angle of arrival, ever since I started writing about uncovering this space. And it's, you know, I am really anxious for the technology to be adopted more. And, you know, really, there's been very few vendors that have a solution in this space. And I think, actually having some choice is going to be really good for the segment and allow it to grow. And, of course, you know, your company is based in China. And I think, you know, when China really starts working on things, then it tends to go big. And I'm seeing China driving other wireless standards that are to do with ambient IoT in a really big way. I think like, Chinese vendors are driving Ambien IoT and the three GPP standards organization. So it's not often that we get to talk to folks from from China about what they're doing. So I'm really looking forward to this. Let's just start off with the basics. Tell us a bit about Blue IoT, the company and what's your elevator pitch?

    Sean Li 02:42

    Okay, so blue IoT, as the world's leading RTLs provider is committed to developing high position locating products and solutions for indoor application scenarios, like the house care, largest takes warehouse manufacturing, smart building, and IoT locating system bring its accuracy level down 2.1 meters, so which is 10 times higher than, you know, the traditional Bluetooth positioning technologies with the you know, locating anchors, it's locating system is compatible with the out Bluetooth 4.0 abou attacks. And it's supposed high precision locating service for both our OT tags, and the phone with the Bluetooth Bluetooth chipset inside of this phone. And the system is also further high cap capacity, low energy, low cost and the smaller size.

    Steve Statler 03:46

    So that's a lot of amazing things. Yeah. How, how large is your company? How many customers do you have?

    Sean Li 03:55

    Okay, so for now, the blowout to headquarters in Beijing. And we have three more technical capital, sorry, three more technical centers in preventing capitals, like the 91 told him to. And we have viewed the diverse and professional teams of over 300 staffs. And most of them come from the Ching Hai University.

    Steve Statler 04:22

    Wow. So that's a lot of people in your organization. Yes. I assume that means you have a fairly significant revenue coming in. Are you a private company or public company? Actually, yeah. What's the status of blue IoT are you how are you funded?

    Sean Li 04:53

    So, the reality is the home wholly owned subsidiary of the Qin co created by the recent recent jobs who is graduated from the university as well. So both the Chinko and blue IoT are high position RTLs providers, but shingle specializing the outdoor band and other kinds of deflation technology.

    Steve Statler 05:16

    Okay, ultra wideband, I Yeah,

    Sean Li 05:19

    yeah. So Chinko is specializing the outro band development and applications and has taken wheat both in China and abroad. But with the update of the Bluetooth protocols to 5.1, and Chinko, can't foresee a promising future to apply the Bluetooth technologies to RTLs. So this is why we established that to IoT and focus more on the Bluetooth AOA based RTRs.

    Steve Statler 05:48

    Okay, so you started off the parent company was doing Ultra wideband, another very accurate technology. Yeah, Bluetooth 5.1 comes along, and then you decide to create a product line there. How can you tell us a bit about your size? In terms of customers? Do you have very many customers?

    Sean Li 06:11

    Yes, we have a we have did more than 300 is project over the war and walkways and more than 50 countries involved in that raising this two years experience.

    Steve Statler 06:28

    Okay, and where are most of your customers? Are most of your customers in China? I mean, 50 countries, that's a lot of countries. But is it evenly spread? Or I'm assuming your strength is in China? It's a huge market. Right?

    Sean Li 06:44

    Yes, but, you know, we have the market in China. And in parallel, we also, you know, explore the overseas market. And we did a lot of projects in South Asia, in the Euro, South Asia country like the Indonesia, Singapore, and India. Yeah. And we also did a lot of projecting the bureau and work with our solution integrator in the Germany. Yeah, in the Serbia? Yes.

    Steve Statler 07:21

    And where do you see your angle of arrival technology being used the most? What are the main use cases that are driving adoption? Because, you know, you offer very high accuracy. And I think it's something that everyone says that they want. But then when they find they have to pay even a little bit more? And quite often they say, Oh, well, maybe not. So I'm very interested to understand where it is that people are willing to actually invest the extra money to get that high level of accuracy that you offer,

    Sean Li 08:03

    okay, I would say the most competitive the area is the house care, you know, so for the hospital, because it has the a lot of complex layout, it contains a lot of different rooms. So when when the when the layout is contents, a lot of rooms deploy IoT technology will be more compatible with this layout. Because do you know why anchoring the room can realize the two dimensional positioning. But you know, for the ultra pan, it needs to realize two dimension it needs at least three anchors. And, yeah, and for the house care, we did a lot of you know case. And for example, we deploy more than three Saudi anchors in the National Hospital in financial district center, you know, realize the full coverage of the real time tracking. And our system is used to track the patient equipment and stuff to improve the management efficiencies. For example, it will record the time concessions consumption of the area staff from the patient entering into the hospital, to the patient getting the proper treatment. So after data accumulation and analyzed the could use to reduce the time consuming assumptions in the unnecessary step. So which may save more lives. So on the other hand, our our products tobacco and navigation app based on our system, so the app will help the patient to find the target medical department more effective. And also the staff could use this app to find the pain patient when the emergency happened.

    Steve Statler 09:55

    Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And you mentioned You're tracking patients, you're tracking staff, but you're also tracking equipment, what sort of equipment are they tracking,

    Sean Li 10:08

    like the mat medics medical equipment. So sometimes it felt moved the, you know, the surgery machine or something over the hospital, you need to know where this machine goes, and how this machine moved in a certain period. So it could be used to help to improve their management efficiency about the equipment management.

    Steve Statler 10:38

    And where are you in the development of the product? How long has blue IoT been in this business, and what's the current version of the the angle of arrival product,

    Sean Li 10:55

    I think I taming the field of the chlobo, Bluetooth high precision indoor positioning, Bluetooth is an industry pioneer promoters and advocators. So as the as the rd is released boosters, 5.1 protocol in 2019, put blue out immediately invested in the research and development of Bluetooth high precision production. And at the end of the 2020, the company officially launched this production market, and start the global business strategy from the beginning. And we also push the domestic domestic business the parallel. And after more than two years business practice. So far, we accumulate a lot of experience in hundreds of projects in various industry. And we successfully exported productive more than 1500 Sorry, more than 15 countries and regions, just like Assad and a world war base, our business partners, and they, they gave us great confidence to occupy a large market share in the global market in the next three to five years.

    Steve Statler 12:13

    And can you describe the product in a little more detail the what's the scope of what you provide versus your your partners, the hardware and the software?

    Sean Li 12:29

    Yeah. So way, way provide the anchors, tags, and software and to our clients. So the anchor just, you know, just pretty easy, just put down crane the selling. And the car bridge well depends on the height, you're you're deployed anchors, and the tags, we have different kinds of tags. And for different kinds of scenario, we have the baggage tag for the employee or for the walker. And we have the waistband tag, and it has much smartwatch functions, it could be it could be used to detect the temperature, body temperature and heart rate. So this has these tags normally used for the patient in house care. And we also have the asset tracking tab, like the black cube, and it could be attached on the magnet stuff. So for the software pod, we have the petition Yanjing and alkylene software, so Zanjan just just the algorithm. So when when it received out this go location data and copy precisely into x and y coordinate in this position Ng and application software just use take this out of this coordinate realize several functions like the geofence switching the state tastic and, and we have pretty flexible architecture but that system so if you want to deploy your own dashboard, click only use our positioning engine to get the coordinates so it could based on the coordinate to do your own dashboard, no problem at all and even our functions and you could deploy our application software no problem.

    Steve Statler 14:18

    So you have a dashboard but you have API's so that people can develop their own dashboard. What and do you work with very many, so what do people do? Do you tend to deploy and develop the application yourself? Or does your customer do it? Or do you have partners with different applications for different verticals? How, how does that work?

    Sean Li 14:49

    So it depends on the our our partners, so if our partners they are solution providers, so they they will prefer to promote our entire architecture. And if our partner they are the system integrators, so they will use the API and deploy our system. And through the provisioning engine to extract all this coordinate to to their own software, so actually spends on

    Steve Statler 15:22

    good. And do you find yourself working with general, global systems integrators? Or are you working with more smaller more specialists? Companies?

    Sean Li 15:38

    Yeah, actually walkways the smaller and special companies in different countries, right? Yeah.

    Steve Statler 15:45

    Very good. And how much does the system cost? What's your approach to pricing?

    Sean Li 15:51

    So the price of a single tag only only takes seven to $8?

    Steve Statler 15:58

    That is, yeah, that's very, very competitive. And what about the the anchor devices,

    Sean Li 16:05

    anchor, we have different kinds of anchors for different scenarios for the standard version anchors are it only takes $300. And we also have the long range anchors could be installed in the higher height, and it can cover the large area, and we developed a compatible compatibility in the higher height. So so it will save the cost for for in a scenario with the height is more than like 10 meters.

    Steve Statler 16:41

    And maybe you can talk a bit about some of the other vertical markets that you're working in. I understand healthcare is one of the leading ones. But can you tell us a bit more about other applications? other verticals?

    Sean Li 16:57

    Okay, so I think that I would say the warehouse, so you know, in a warehouse, it is pretty opening area, and very suitable for deployed the anchors. Just I just, like I said, the low range anchors will be more compelling in this scenario. And when you're deployed anchors in the warehouse, it could be used to find the material in the warehouse, and could be used to track the personnel and the forklift in this warehouse and to improve the management efficiency in this scenario.

    Steve Statler 17:38

    And for a warehouse, how many of the anchors would I need in order to cover a given space?

    Sean Li 17:45

    Actually, it's it depends on the height. So if the if the warehouse is pretty high, and we assume it, its height is more than 10 meters, and wanker could cover like 400 square meters? In general, so, actually, several anchors could cover 100 More than 100 square meters. So it actually depends on the area of this warehouse.

    Steve Statler 18:13

    And are you generally providing just X and Y positioning? Or are you also tracking the height to the z axis? So

    Sean Li 18:23

    now we only offer the to dimensioning. positioning, and to serve this they tracking is ongoing? And developing? Okay.

    Steve Statler 18:37

    And back to the way the product works? Does the location engine run on site? Does the customer have a PC or a server or something that is running on site? What? What does that look

    Sean Li 18:56

    like? Okay, so the plan could be wrong in the personnel server, on site, the problem and also it could be the polling in the cloud. So if you have the cloud in your in the locate, you could just put the police j&j in the cloud and, you know, connect the several places, data and put the data into perjanjian kit to coordinate to your application, no problem. And it could save the cost to buy different, you know, positioning engines.

    Steve Statler 19:30

    I see. Very good. Well, what is the typical process? A hospital decides that they want to deploy your technology. What's, what does that project look like? What are the steps that you typically take?

    Sean Li 19:51

    You mean the staff were deployed the anchors?

    Steve Statler 19:55

    Yeah. The deployment process. If we're By building a project plan, how long does it take to deploy the solution to progressing?

    Sean Li 20:06

    Actually, our deployment process is pretty simple. And when you have the drawing of this project, and you have the height information of this, of this drawing, and you could know the coverage of the anchors, and you could just compare the coverage with this room's area, and decided Landkreis nav or maybe several anchors is enough to cover the whole coverage. And when you decided to spot your deployed anchor to just put that anchor in the tactically spot, according to your design, and just connect the anchors to the switched by the cable, and we also support the service connections. So one port in the switch could connect four anchors maximum maximum, so it could save the cabling wearing coast. And, and after that, when you're finished the connection work and our our technique support could help you to initialization of the system. And our system can be put into use very simple.

    Steve Statler 21:11

    So the power for your the anchor devices is that power over Ethernet that you're using

    Sean Li 21:19

    are powered by the P OE Yes. Okay.

    Steve Statler 21:22

    Very good. And what is your view about how you compare with your competitors, where where do you focus and what do you see your relative strengths as compared to other angle of arrival offerings,

    Sean Li 21:47

    okay. So, I will say our advantages, why is the stability and the other is accuracy. So, our system will be more stable compared with other similar AOA providers. And, you know, the system could and the accuracy, you know, that between the real spot and the spotting system is smaller compared with the other providers. And you know, what the anchor coverage will be bigger, in the same room or in the same conditions, so we can deploy last anchors and save the coast.

    Steve Statler 22:28

    And why do you think that is? Given that, you know, it's all Bluetooth? And it's all the same? Standard, why do you think you have that advantage,

    Sean Li 22:42

    cos you know, we just as I said, we have the outro band experience in algorithm. So we actually wait we can accumulate long years of the how to decide different kinds of interference, when you will receive the signals. So, which is, you know, combined outro band positioning algorithm and based Bluetooth algorithm. So, I think the core part why we could be more compactive is the algorithm. So, I guess, pretty powerful, it couldn't know. So, if the signal is reflagged from the metal or the class, it can now and remove this signal. So just make sure the whole pore is clean, and more accurate. I see. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 23:39

    And last question for this part of the program. You know, the next part will ask you a little bit about you and so forth. But the last part, what's your assessment of the market of the drivers for what you do? You know, any business, we look at where things are, do you think people are we in a mature market? Are we in the early stage? Do you see a lot of growth, what's your view on the market,

    Sean Li 24:13

    I didn't high precision in real time looking talented is an important component of the information and intelligence technologies. So it has played a very important role in improving productive efficiency, strengthening the safety supervisors and improving the social management level and also it will promote the digital management and operation of the modern enterprise. All this demand will drive the this technology grow and through and, and for the market. We also you know, when we work with our partners, we can know this market in the AOA is growing and we are talking about more project and more applications Yeah.

    Steve Statler 25:01

    And I mean, is there a problem or a set of problems that you think are driving people to implement this? Because you know, the world has existed without bluetooth angle of arrival for a long time, what what do you think is going to make this bigger and and grow?

    Sean Li 25:23

    Yes. So, costing out the people for now, they they will they become lazy. So you they get the information very quick and where we come in and live they require. So please don't just like hospital when not in the old age, when we you know, entering the hospital, we will come we are confused about the way which way we need to go. And which doctor I need to find, for now just meant well Valpha can solve our problem. You just open the app in your mobile phone and deploy our system. And navigation can tell you all the way out of our place and you to go one by one. So it saved the time and make people more lazy.

    Steve Statler 26:13

    Or maybe our expectations have just got higher of the convenience that we we expect. Very good. So what so we have this tradition, what are the three songs that you decided to choose?

    Sean Li 26:30

    Yeah, first song I'd like to choose to say again. So it's the same song of the fear, essence speed. And you know, it's talk a story about the Brotherhood. And this song that just reminded me up the time I spend with my good good friends in the college. And secondly, I would like to choose the crashing. So is the song The telling story about the love? So it just, you know, tell me that I'm still young when I listen this song.

    Steve Statler 27:03

    And so who is that song by? What's the witch artist recorded?

    Sean Li 27:10

    I actually do not read I am not you know a good name. A good name, remember? So actually, I just follow the reason that the beats melody of the song.

    Steve Statler 27:22

    Okay, but is this Chinese artist? Or is it an English or American artist?

    Sean Li 27:28

    Is foreign artist but I'm not sure it is from chase a frown British or American? I'm not very clear about that.

    Steve Statler 27:38

    But but you but you listen to

    Sean Li 27:41

    music with English lyrics. Yes, English lyric.

    Steve Statler 27:46

    Is that very common in China?

    Sean Li 27:48

    I'm as sure his parents know some some some they like the English lyric at someone like Chinese lyric is to parents.

    Steve Statler 27:59

    All right. And what do you use to how do you find English music? Do you? I mean, here I use Spotify. That's the app that I use. Is that something that's available to you? Or do you use something else?

    Sean Li 28:13

    Yeah, we have our music app in China. So it also could download the music out what?

    Steve Statler 28:23

    Um, what is that called? What's the name of that app?

    Sean Li 28:27

    Yeah. The name is called the music music cloud. You know, it could download music from the cloud. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 28:35

    Okay. Well, that's a very straightforward No, that's Yes. Yes. Okay, so um, what is your third song?

    Sean Li 28:44

    My first song is called low life. And this exact quote, Joe Campbell music and I like just like the beat of the song. So sometimes we I feel exhausted or you know, not very happy. I would like to listen to a song about cheers. Cheers me again.

    Steve Statler 29:02

    Alright, that sounds. That sounds good. So, tell us a bit about yourself. What's your role at Blue? IoT?

    Sean Li 29:14

    Yes. My job in the blog takes the senior technical engineers and I will be responsible for the solution design, cane client training and solution demonstration and project feasibility assessment.

    Steve Statler 29:30

    And how long have you worked at the company for

    Sean Li 29:34

    almost one year?

    Steve Statler 29:36

    Okay. And how did you get the job?

    Sean Li 29:40

    Actually, it's the you know, the Human Resources employee of this company and the contact with me and we have very nice talk about the job and know the salary. And when you're in a way, I think it's a win win situation. So it's the reason why I joined this company

    Steve Statler 29:59

    and What were you doing before blue IoT?

    Sean Li 30:03

    I was the Technics support in the company name that nuke tag and is the security check equipment provider and solution provider by the security check. And yeah, I have I have been there. Three years. I assume that

    Steve Statler 30:23

    before this you were in college, you went to university or something like that when you graduate,

    Sean Li 30:31

    so I finished my bachelor degrees at the Sioux twang university during this time during the hot hot pot. No, no, no hot pot. Okay, so don't worry about that. So the Sioux Tribe is the mother programs of the hot pot. So he's wearing a t shirt and spicy food. You know, you could Oh, oh, you remember that? Yeah. Okay. No, no.

    Steve Statler 31:03

    I mean, I like spicy food. Okay, other than that, it doesn't mean anything to me. No.

    Sean Li 31:08

    Okay. And after that, I went to America. I went to New York. And I pursued my master's degree at Cornell University. Okay. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 31:21

    Well, I've heard of Cornell. So did you did you enjoy your time?

    Sean Li 31:26

    is pretty hard time there. You know, you need to spend a lot of time to study and do the research.

    Steve Statler 31:34

    Right? Yeah. So did you get to do anything other than work? I hope so.

    Sean Li 31:39

    Yes, you did. Yeah,

    Steve Statler 31:42

    I did. Did you get to travel around the United States? Yeah, have

    Sean Li 31:47

    been a lot of the different cities like Chicago and San Francisco. And yeah, I have been the a lot of different cities. And they have different I mean, different country and different feeling. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 32:07

    And what was your favorite thing about living in the United States?

    Sean Li 32:12

    My favorite thing living inside the United States? I would say? I would say the Freedom. Freedom. Yeah. Cuz you could choose the things that you are interesting to do. And you also have title, friends, it could work ways. Yeah. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 32:38

    Well, that's good. And do you think, you know, what is something that you think Americans could learn from the Chinese? I mean, you probably saw what we do. And maybe there's some things that you liked. And then other things, you're shaking your head? And what would what would you say we could Americans could learn from the Chinese? Yeah, I

    Sean Li 33:05

    think it I think it's a little bit tough questions. And I think first is saying that American can learn from Chinese is that foot? Foot? Yeah. Because I know Chinese. Chinese. Yeah. Yeah. You know, in America, the Chinese food is not real Chinese food. Your kid has really? Yeah, I'm not kidding. Because, you know, in America, the Chinese food has been turned to the Americans down. It being kind of sweet, sweet style. Yeah. If you have chance, come to Chang, AOL, about you know, treat you with the real Chinese food.

    Steve Statler 33:49

    I would love to do that. I really want to come to China, I want to go and see the Great Wall. I want to see the Terracotta Army, all of the touristy stuff. And also, you know, the infrastructure. I'm just so you know, we struggled to make train lines here. Yeah, I live in California. And it takes hours to hours and hours and hours to travel around. And you guys have done an amazing job with the infrastructure. So I want to try, you know, travel on the, the train system you have and it's I've heard amazing things. I actually went to China. Gosh, back in 1989. And I think it's probably changed quite a bit since.

    Sean Li 34:33

    Yeah, yeah.

    Steve Statler 34:35

    I do remember having a Chinese meal and thinking, Man, this is nothing like yeah, it's very different. But that was before the high tech revolution and yes, so I feel like I need to catch up. So very good. Well, thanks for talking a little bit about about that, I really enjoyed it.

    Sean Li 35:02

    So, thanks. Thanks your state and thanks for your time.

    Steve Statler 35:07

    So that was my interview with Sean at Blue IoT long distance for the interview, but amazing image quality, amazing audio. It really felt like he was next door. And we think of China as being you know, separated from us by this huge gulf. But when it comes to this kind of technology, then it feels really close. I hope it was an eye opener for you. I hope you found it interesting. Thanks very much for sticking with us through the the end of this particular episode, and I'm really looking forward to continuing our exploration of this fascinating world of ambient IoT please stick with us.