You are all set for the final of the cricket match and you have bought seats with vantage points and are now on the way to the cricket stadium. Your mobile tells you where you will get parking for your car and you smoothly ease into the designated parking space. No tokens, no slips, nothing; you park and then the mobile guides you to the bus that will take you to the stadium. As you ride the bus, the mobile highlights the various important landmarks on your way to the stadium. In the next ten minutes you learn everything that is of interest to you. The mobile tells you to get off the bus and then guides you to your gate. You wave the mobile and the stadium gates open for you. Before that you have already been beaconed and tagged an a non-security risk. As you enter the stadium, your body and clothes are fully scanned for explosives, guns, drugs, and other hazardous substances. Your mobile guides you to your seat and the layout of the stadium pops into your screen and it gives you a 360 degree panoramic view of the stadium from the sky and also highlights the location of the restrooms, bar and restaurants. You settle down for the big match in your seat and as the players walk into the stadium, it flashes data about the player walking into the pitch. As the batsman get into their positions at the stumps, the mobile gives you everything you need to know about them. You can then scan each fielder and it automatically tells you about him, and if you wish you can zoom into them on your mobile at their actual location to get a better view about them. The game starts and the mobile flashes scores key information about the game, players names as they bowl, field, catch or even claim a wicket. It also shows you everything you want to know about the referees.

Welcome the world of Beacons, the next wave of digital disruption. They are going to be everywhere and those small devices are going to make it easy to take a guided tour of the Taj Mahal or Ajanta without a real guide. It will make your mobile your personal assistant. When you are shopping in a retail store, it will tell you everything you want to know about the dress, its origin, how long it took to be made and how many similar dresses were made, it may also give you an immediate discount if you show hesitation in buying it, oops no cards here we live in the world of mobile money. The application of Beacons is as much as the mind can innovate and use them whether in the world of health care, agriculture, manufacturing, retail, museums, monuments, shopping malls, airports, security, tracking the list is endless.

Beacons are the first wmobile platforms of proximity technology that are inexpensive, have a battery life of about two years and are low energy devices and do not hog the user’s mobile phone battery.  They are equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE (also called Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart) that can be used to deliver proximity-based, context-aware messages. The beacons work beautifully in detecting Smartphone’s indoors, where GPS isn’t always effective, and sending alerts and data to apps on those devices. Also while GPS operates at a macro range, beacons work at micro range, giving brands an opportunity to interact with customers not only at a store level but also target narrowly at an aisle or a fixture level. Beacons rely on the two-way communication (that the BLE technology allows) between an app and a strategically placed beacon. Beacons made a big splash when Apple introduced iBeacon with the launch of iOS7and has been built into all its devices manufactured since 2013. Around 200 million iOS devices are thus, forever enabled to serve as transmitters and receivers for Beacons.

Today both Apple and Android phones support Beacons, and there are Beacons which support both the mobile operating systems. There are many manufacturers of beacons and you can buy them starting at $5; we will see the price dropping as the Taiwanese, Chinese and Koreans enter the fray for market share. Most of the Beacon Manufacturers today support both Apple and Android mobile devices and some of them are Kontakt Beacons which act as wireless transmitters and have proven as rugged solutions during deployment. RedBeacon USB works on an USB package and Estimote Beacons and Stickers provide wireless sensors that can be attached to any location or object. AirCable USB Dongle Beacons, BlueCats are cat-shaped beacons that use replaceable AA batteries. Further, BlueSense Networks provide a retail solution called the Bluebar and run for two years on a single Battery.  Estimote is a leader among beacons and has a strong technology leadership with a large footprint in actual deployment, while Footmarks ibeacon is designed for digital intelligence for physical spaces and provides strong backend systems. Gimbal by Qualcomm is an important contender and challenges the dominance of Apple and Android operating systems by supporting its own operating system and are provided on a per-user fee. Another worthy mention is Sonic Notify, which has been a pioneer in the launch of Beacons and support older Android devices that do not have Bluetooth capability. PayPal has also entered the fray with their own proprietary beacon hardware, thus challenging the dominant position of Apple and Android mobile devices.

To deploy Beacons you need a strong background of systems integration in stitching the network, devices and software application together to make it all work. This is another exciting phase of Digital Disruption and will pose challenges to our privacy and the way we live.  Beacons are susceptible to various cyber attacks including Sniffer attacks, password based attacks, DOS attacks, Man in the Middle Attacks and Compromised key attacks to name a few, hence a secure application architecture will play a significant role in deployment of Beacons. But if you are adventurous, there is no harm in buying a dozen beacons bundled with a SDK and stringing an application together and start enjoying the benefits. You can consider placing beacons on the art collections and antiques in the boardroom and educate your Board and Leadership Team about the benefits of beacons by throwing light on the paintings and antiques on their mobile devices.

This was published at Information Week India :