Beacons emit short radio waves. Bluetooth enabled smartphones can receive data – text, audio and video that can be transmitted by beacons. Apple was the first major company that developed in 2013 a beacon technology based product. They named these ibeacons.

The first people who took to using beacons for messaging and communication were retail chains who would push notifications of discounts, promotions etc to customers visiting stores. The technology was further developed to enable store managers track customer location and push notifications relevant to a particular section of the store 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, communicating with workers, customers, 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 the period 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 is likely to 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 band wagon with their Eddystone beacons. Microsoft too now have their own brand of beacons. The lion’s share of the beacon market though still continues with Apple. But Google is rapidly catching up. Other players are also joining in with their own beacon products.

The limitation with the Beacon technology lies in its limited range. It 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 rising popularity of beacons, manufacture of beacons 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. Most beacons are powered by AA batteries. 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. Extra layer of security can be further programmed by beacon firmware developers. 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 beacons solutions can be used on all brands ibeacon, Eddystone and others. Here below are some of the key features of the Onyx Beacon firmware:

  1. 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.
  2. The firmware can also operate on open format of Google Eddystone beacons. A specific URL can be beamed onto a smartphone with the help of Eddystone beacon. The URL can be opened on an Android phone using Google Chrome.
  3. 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, track customer movement, frequency and time spent by a visitor on a location.
  4. Visitor data can be analyzed. It can be used to build customer specific marketing campaigns and improving customer outreach.

Onyx Beacon beacon technology can be deployed for asset tracking and real time location services, proximity marketing, customized communication to staff and visitors in banks, smart public transportation solutions, participant engagement and analytics in events, interactive learning solutions etc.

Rising demand for beacon based 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. Success of beacon tech ventures will depend on quality of customer outreach and service support.

Onyx Beacon startup are building an extensive partner ecosystem spread in different locations in not just Europe but in other parts of the world too. Today they are doing all their development work out of Romania. Going forward, 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 cost, fight rising protectionist tendencies in the world 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.

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