April 14, 2016

The Limitations of BLE Beacons for Indoor Location Tracking

4 minute read

offtargetbluetoothDespite being a buzzword for a while now, beacons continue to bring excitement when they’re mentioned in conversation. Healthcare uses them to track inventory and assets, retail uses them to push notifications to potential buyers, and other industries inject them into their mobile strategy for additional purposes.

Unfortunately, beacons are failing to meet the expectations we have for them but not due to poor performance. These disappointments are so regular that you may be tired of hearing about beacons in general.

Beacons have been built up as the end-all-be-all for asset tracking and inventory management to enhancing the customer experience at brick and mortar retail stores. This vision of a one-size fixes all solution is causing great disappointment; however, beacons deserve credit for what they can do.

Beacons have their limits; focus on outcomes

Beacons are a tool, a means to an end. These BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) bite-sized pieces of technology are experts at what they do, but not at everything else. Issues with deployment such as keeping track of which beacon is which, applying or sticking them to surfaces, theft due to their small size, battery life and more have thwarted some adoption. Additional issues with app integration and user adoption are valid as well.

However, all new technologies have hiccups but what we really need to fix here is our expectations. Without getting too technical, beacons themselves won’t be the reason your customers keep coming back to your store. Beacons are a specialized piece of technology with a lot of potential but they need to be used correctly and our expectations need to be realistic. Brick and mortar stores are trying to find the magic recipe to keep current customers and bring new ones in by enhancing the user experience; while beacons can be a part of creating a special user experience, they can’t do it alone.

Bringing beacons into an environment is like most new additions – it requires a plan, staff training, implementation, careful deployment and consistent upkeep. As a piece of a truly successful mobile strategy, the rest of the plan needs to be built out too which requires addressing more than just those devices with BLE and the right app to talk to a beacon. Understanding the entire mobile environment through ALL wireless (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, etc) will land healthcare, retail and more industries closer to the mark they’re aiming for than just one vector of mobile communication.

After all, beacons fill a gap that these other wireless methods cannot through their inexpensive pricing and relative ease of deployment. This is why a unified Real Time Location Solution (RTLS) with all types of wireless included in the strategy is the way to go.

Topic(s): positioning

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