This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.
Thanks to cellular GPS, the days of pulling your car over to ask for directions are long gone. It has never been easier to find your way from point A to B and to track down nearby points of interest like restaurants or gas stations.
But, what happens when you walk indoors? The “blue dot” navigation experience doesn’t exist. When inside a mall, conference center, or office complex, you are back to stopping and asking for turn-by-turn directions when needed.
There is enormous demand for an indoor location experience that is on par with outdoor cellular GPS. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is an exciting technology that promises to satisfy this demand. The major mobile device manufacturers have put their weight behind BLE beaconing standards and a robust BLE ecosystem has emerged to develop indoor location solutions. But two things have held BLE indoor location services back to date:
- The high cost of overlay networks.
- Complicated deployment and operations.
These issues have primarily been due to the fact that BLE location services require the deployment of battery-powered physical beacons, which are difficult to deploy and manage. Fortunately, the recent introduction of new virtual beacon technology changes all that. With virtualization, BLE location services are finally ready for mass market adoption. Here’s how.
Simplified deployments using virtual beacons
BLE physical beacons are small battery operated devices that are attached to a wall or ceiling, usually about 30-50 feet apart. They broadcast BLE signals typically at -10dBm to 4bdBm of power at intervals typically ranging from .1 to 10 beacons per second. Each physical beacon must be configured and mounted manually, with extensive site surveys required for proper placement and calibration.
They are powered by batteries that can last from months to years depending on usage (stronger signals and more frequent intervals result in lower battery lives). When the battery dies on these devices, they must be found and replaced. In large venues, this can be a challenging and expensive feat, especially if beacons were lost or moved (intentionally or otherwise). For these reasons, many companies have shied away from using physical battery beacons, which has hampered the widespread deployment of BLE.
Converging BLE functionality into existing Wi-Fi networks and virtualizing the physical beacon functionality allows companies to bring indoor location functionality to their business and customers. In other words, BLE broadcast functions are moved into the standard IT infrastructure – i.e. BLE antenna are added to a Wi-Fi Access Point or deployed as a dedicated BLE-only “beacon point” that are mounted on the celling and powered via Ethernet, eliminating the need for wall-mounted beacons with batteries. These Access/Beacon Points leverage directional antennas powered by a single Bluetooth transmitter sending unique RF energy in multiple directions.
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