Listening Beacons?

17/04/2015 by Rupert Potter, Operations Director

How using ‘listening’ Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons can help track footfall

By definition a beacon is a device that transmits. In the world of mobile commerce it can transmit for example its presence allowing an app to determine its location. However there are situations where it would help if a beacon could listen as well.

When a beacon is transmitting it requires an app to receive, and make sense of, the message. In a shopping centre this would allow an app to know which store it was near and pass the consumer an advertising message or offer for that store. That is useful for the consumer (who gets an offer), the retailer (who gets a new customer) and the shopping centre (who can get location data from app users).

However most of the people in the shopping centre will not have the app. And the behaviour of those that do have the app may well be affected by the messages the app sends. If the beacons could listen though it would be able to track all devices as they moved through the shopping centre. This provides invaluable data to the shopping centre.

In this situation the listening beacon can look out for the Wi-Fi signals of all mobile phones (with Wi-Fi available and switched on). The beacon then needs a way to store and transmit the data gathered so that it can be processed. Now both the smartphone and the beacon are transmitting and they are both listening. They are not able to hold a ‘conversation’ because the messages don’t change. They are both transmitting their presence and they are both listening for the presence of the other.

There is not yet a ubiquitous term for this technology. By definition they are not just beacons. A ‘listening beacon’ may be a contradiction in terms but even so we are set to see many more of them as the worlds of mobile commerce and bricks and mortar commerce continue to merge.