Virtual beacons challenge Wi-Fi for in-building, location-based supremacy

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons from Mist Systems and Cisco could revolutionize the consumer experience in retail, healthcare, hospitality.

In-building location and tracking is possible today thanks to the Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices that have become indispensable for organizations and consumers alike. Both wireless technologies can provide great accuracy, and a broad and growing range of security, marketing, and other location-based applications are already at work.

For example, if you’re in a museum standing in front of the dinosaur exhibit, relevant information can be sent to your smartphone. If you’re in a medical complex and need to go from a doctor’s office to the X-ray facility, the technology can provide turn-by-turn in-building directions.

On the retail side, let’s say you’re walking through a mall. The technology lets retailers send location-specific coupons to your smartphone. The same can be done inside a specific retail store. And retailers can gather data on where shoppers are walking within their stores and can analyze that information to improve their marketing and operations.

While Wi-Fi has dominated the in-building location and tracking space for many years, the rise of small and inexpensive beacons based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology has introduced an option that many find superior.

Improved spatial resolution is often possible with the deployment of large numbers of beacons. But planning, deploying, maintaining, and managing what can be a very large number of beacons, especially in venues like convention centers, transportation hubs, and stadiums, can be very challenging.

The recent development of virtual beacons is a potential game changer. With virtual beacons, one or more infrastructure devices emulate multiple otherwise discrete beacons, eliminating the need for individual beacon units, and thus reducing deployment and operating expense and with no compromise in functionally.

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