Beacons emit short radio waves. Bluetooth-enabled smartphones can receive data – text, audio, and video that beacons can transmit. In 2013 Apple was the first major company to develop a beacon technology-based product. They named these ibeacons.
The first people who used beacons for messaging and communication were retail chains which would push notifications of discounts, promotions, etc., to customers visiting stores. The technology was further developed to enable store managers to track customer location and push notifications relevant to a particular store section in which a customer was located.
Soon new use cases using beacon broadcasting capability were developed. These include remote tracking of assets in a warehouse, vehicles in parking lots and assembly lines, and communicating with workers, customers, and patients in factories, airports, manufacturing units, hospitals, etc.
As use cases have increased, the popularity of these IOT devices has risen. The global beacon market is seeing exponential growth. Shipments of Bluetooth beacons are estimated to grow at a dizzy annual growth rate of 307.2 percent in 2015-2020. 80,000 units were shipped in 2015. This number is projected to reach 88.29 million by 2020. (Technavio) Much of this growth will likely come from non-retail market use cases.
For a few years, iBeacons made by Apple, were almost the only game in town. Google took a little while to join the race. But now they have joined the bandwagon with their Eddystone beacons. Microsoft, too, now has its brand of beacons. However, the lion’s share of the beacon market continues with Apple. But Google is rapidly catching up. Other players are also joining in with their beacon products.
The limitation of the technology lies in its limited range. Its effective range is 50 meters. Long-range location beacons can communicate up to 200 meters distance. As demand for longer-distance broadcasting and communication emerges, I think this limitation will soon be overcome.
With the rising popularity of these devices, the manufacture of hardware has become commoditized. China has emerged as a major manufacturer. The cost of a base version of a beacon has dropped to as low as $10. AA batteries power most beacons. They can also be energized through a USB port or directly connected to a power source. Power consumption is very low. A set of four batteries could keep a beacon energized for up to four years.
Broadcast and communication messages on the beacon network can be encrypted and secured from hacking. Beacon firmware developers can further program an extra layer of security. One such firmware developer startup is Onyx Beacon. It is based out of Romania. I spoke to the startup’s communication head Doru Supeala and got an overview of the solutions offered by them.
Onyx Beacon beacon solutions can be used on all brands ibeacon, Eddystone and others. Here below are some of the key features of the Onyx Beacon firmware:
- Encryption is based on a combination of AES – 128 (Advanced Encryption Standard with a block size of 128 bits) and MAC (Message Authentication Code). MAC enables message authentication.
- The firmware can also operate on the open format of Google Eddystone beacons. A specific URL can be beamed onto a smartphone with the help of an Eddystone beacon. The URL can be opened on an Android phone using Google Chrome.
- Content can be managed with a cloud-based CMS. The CMS application can be integrated with a company’s CRM through an application interface. The CMS helps manage multiple beacons and track customer movement, frequency, and time a visitor spends in a location.
- Visitor data can be analyzed. It can be used to build customer-specific marketing campaigns and improve customer outreach.
Onyx Beacon beacon technology can be deployed for asset tracking and real-time location services, proximity marketing, customized communication to bank staff and visitors, smart public transportation solutions, participant engagement and analytics in events, interactive learning solutions, etc.
Rising demand for this technology has led to increased competition. The number of service providers is increasing. The technology, though, is still new. The appreciation for this technology is still emerging. The success of these IOT tech ventures will depend on the quality of customer outreach and service support.
Onyx Beacon startups are building an extensive partner ecosystem spread in different locations in Europe and other parts of the world. Today they are doing all their development work out of Romania. In the future, they will probably need to take a closer look at their growth and development models and compare them with other emerging multinational startups.
Development and service offerings may need to be cloned to customer location countries. This will help contain costs, fight rising protectionist tendencies worldwide, and offer customer and country-specific services. It would be interesting to see how the startup evolves in the coming years. The future has immense potential for beacon solution providers and startups like Onyx Beacon.