Indoor location technologies are advancing as industries and developers find innovative ways to boost revenues and overall consumer experiences. Businesses and organizations are finding advantages in using indoor navigation, asset tracking, analytics and proximity based services.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) made proximity services affordable for many. BLE utilizes existing technology built into smart devices, Blackberries, Android, and Apple products and the infrastructure is adaptable to multiple use-cases. The technology works through the transmission of signals from beacons to smart devices. Tri-lateration allows for the pinpointing of user locations and the amalgamation of such data into User Location Reports.

Beacons are accurate up to sub-meter levels and work best in an indoor environment. For businesses which require even greater levels of accuracy, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) fills the gap.

 

UWB and iBeacon Infrastructures Compared

 

Compared to RFID and WiFi, beacons are highly affordable, although initial set-up can be tricky. Most solution providers will manage deployments for you and will provide the software and cloud services to allow you to monitor the health of your beacon fleet.  Beacons are battery powered units which come in all shapes and sizes. They may be mounted to objects, walls and ceilings or carried in the form of id-tags. These beacons broadcast intermittent signals which smart devices detect and this data allows an analytics program to estimate the distance between the two.  The calculation is done in real-time, allowing for an up-to-the-second map of all users within a facility. Beacons have a Tx signal which can be increased or decreased to broadcast signals over a smaller or larger area. In initial stages, the Tx power of a beacon may need to be adjusted to ensure that the targeted zones line up physically and digitally. As a result, smartphones may be slow to react to beacon signals and may take around 3 seconds to detect a beacon in range.
UWB infrastructure requires the installation of antennas in corners of targeted spaces and venues. Luckily, installation and maintenance is simpler. UWB deployments require a small battery-powered dongle  which is attached to every user to measure location. Dongles send a signal to the anchor antennas which process the signal and calculate the position of users equipped with dongles with sub-20cm accuracy. If your Indoor Positioning System is limited to specific users, UWB might work for you. For retail environments, hospitals, schools etc, Bluetooth LE and beacons may be more effective since BLE beacon systems captures information from all smart-device equipped users, no dongle required.

Retail Proximity Solutions

proximity marketing

Retail stores stand to benefit from proximity based solutions. Presenting customers with targeted messages at the right place and right time can have a huge impact on customer loyalty and retail sales. Indoor Proximity Systems benefit from beacon-facilitated forms of geofencing which trigger content within targeted zones. In this situation, the high precision of UWB is not required, nor would it be feasible to hand out dongles to customers upon entering the store. Getting your product in front of the right customers at the right time can prove crucial and as e-commerce is impacting retail sales dramatically, the sector is looking for ways to bring shoppers back. Proximity based advertising uses a geolocation to trigger content when a customer goes within the set proximity radius. This radius needn’t be as precise as to-the-centimeter. For retail settings, a user’s mobile device will be used as the communication channel of the advertising.

Combining user-location reports with marketing and advertising would not be possible with UWB. UWB could work for heat-mapping and user-location reports using shopping carts and baskets equipped with dongles- but beacons are multi-functional, cheaper, and often win out

 

Museum Automatic Audio Guide

Museums and galleries are ideal candidates for proximity technology. Smart audio guides and tours which are triggered based on proximity are already standard in world-class museums.

In this situation, again beacons are sufficient since accuracy isn’t required. However, in venues and exhibits with crowded points of interest, UWB might prove more useful. UWB would eliminate the need to adjust Tx signals on beacons to find their sweet spot.

Since museum guests are often provided with an audio device upon arrival at a gallery, UWB . This allows for the guest to easily access a UWB dongle along with a device and headphones.  Where the guest downloads an audio guide app to their own phone, beacons are going to be preferable as they do not need any extra hardware to enjoy the audio guide.

 

User and Asset Location Systems and Wayfinding

Both beacons and UWB can achieve asset and user tracking. Beacons achieve this through tri-lateration – a process through which signal strengths are measured from multiple beacons and the approximate location of a user or asset can be tracked with sub-meter accuracy. UWB accomplishes this with anchors in each corner of the room to a higher degree of accuracy for facilities up to 6700^2ft

Locatify Indoor wayfinding beacons and UWB

For facilities with many rooms, beacons placed in each room is a better alternative than installing anchors in each of the four corners.

 

And, so?

UWB? More precise. Beacons? Cheaper and adaptable. When handing out dongles is practical, UWB is the solution for large (up to 6700^2ft) facilities. For large facilities with many rooms, beacons are less costly and involved.