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Do next-generation micro-location solutions address a market need?

While businesses with physical locations continue to experiment with leverage beacons based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology to drive mobile engagement, some vendors are chatting up next-generation solutions already deployed in several markets that promise to address some of the earlier technology’s shortcomings.

While interest around beacons is strong because of their ability to enable hyperlocal engagement, some marketers are treading slowly because of questions around their maintenance and performance. The Cité des télécoms Museum is hoping to address some of these issues with its use of Decawave’s Ultra Wide Band micro-location technology.

“BLE beacons have stolen all the headlines but the reality is there are 10+ viable technologies out there looking to solve the indoor location platform,” said Patrick Connolly, London-based senior analyst at ABI Research. “ABI has always argued that BLE beacons are not a silver bullet and companies need to hybridize.

“Most notably, it is a push, proximity technology that requires an app – for iBeacon standard – and today still has very low penetration of active BLE on smartphones,” he said. “This is why we include each of the 10+ technologies in our forecasts.

“UWB is a hugely powerful technology and Decawave is a company on the cusp of becoming very important in indoor location, but the major drawback is a lack of smartphone integration. This will limit it for things like retail and mobile advertising, but it still has huge potential for personal tracking, corporate/enterprise, etc.”

ABI forecasts strong growth for ultrasound, LED, magnetic-field, LTE-Direct and sensor fusion indoor location technologies, while Wi-Fi is expected to become increasingly important as it evolves to indoor location 2.0 with higher accuracy and lower costs.

The Cité des télécoms Museum in France is offering an enhanced viewing and learning experience on tablets that leverages a signal transmitting and receiving without interference as users move between objects and walls viewing exhibit-related content. The pilot program was launched with TicaTag and Decawave, using the latter’s Ultra Wide Band micro-location technology.

As the UWB technology is not in the device, TicaTag developed a UWB receptor that is interfaced in Bluetooth Low Energy with the tablet.

For user interaction, a mobile app has been developed, enabling the user to get information upon entering a room, when an audio guide will explain what will be presented. Users also receive an alert when passing nearby a point of interest informing them that multimedia content is available.

Another vendor promising to enhance the capability of beacons is SmartFocus, which is offering proprietary virtual beacon technology that it claims renders current beacon technology redundant. The vendor’s virtual beacons enable brands to benefit from proximity technology with hardware integration or maintenance while still being able to trigger micro-location messaging to enable a contextual experience.

Hybridized solutions
While there may be some issues that need to be worked out with beacons, many of the initial programs appear to be successful.

Also, it may be too early to judge BLE technology until the app ecosystem catches up with the deployments and consumers are using the technology regularly, per Mr. Connolly. While ABI believes the technology will ultimately become very common, there will be a portion of the population that will find the technology an invasion.

“What I have seen so far has largely been very successful, such as SXSX a few weeks ago and brand apps at major sporting stadiums in the US,” Mr. Connolly said. “In the retail side, initial trials and deployments, such as the McDonalds trial, have also proving very successful.

“From a retailer standpoint I think it is not a question of if now but when,” he said. “The number of major brands waiting to pull the trigger in 2015/16 is incredible.”

“Like every technology there are teething problems, such as the ability to monitor and maintain beacons over large networks, but these are small and rectifiable, particularly as BLE moves to meshing. BLE beacons have their limitations and we are already seeing hybridized solutions that combine technologies together to improve accuracy, coverage, reach, etc. A great example is in the advertising area, where beacons are being combined with ultrasound/Audio.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York