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Beacon 101

Beacon is the general description for small devices taking power from a battery to provide information and services using the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology.  Beacon has a simple structure in terms of hardware. It consists of a CPU, radio transmitter and battery. It has versions with different colors and shapes. It is possible to customize the beacon with sensors such as heat meter, barometer and accelerometer. Beacon has the capability of interacting with any Bluetooth enabled device as soon as the device gets within its field of view.  Phones, tablets or any other devices with Bluetooth technology can identify the location or services of the Beacon by using the Beacon’s data.


Since the GPS satellite technology has gone public in the late 90’s, positioning systems have played an important role in people’s lives. Today, almost everyone has a device such as smart phones, tablets, GPS trackers or smart watches with built-in GPS features. [1]

In 2009, the SIG (Bluetooth Special Interest Group) announced the version 4.0, including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). It was re-branded as Bluetooth Smart at a later time and had another re-branding in 2016. As a result of this branding efforts; Bluetooth Smart, Bluetooth Low Energy, BLE and Bluetooth low energy technology terms are used interchangeably. [2]

Using wireless technologies for proximity detection is not something new, but with the introduction of Bluetooth low energy features in 2009, Beacons can now be deployed on a wide-range scale. [3]

Low energy consumption, simple structure, applicability in many sectors, ability to transmit data to all Bluetooth devices and having features such as location detection with low deviation ratio, Beacons have started to become increasingly common and preferred when compared to other positioning technologies.


One of the greatest benefits of Beacon technology is that it has an ability to do a positioning in the closed area. With this feature, many services such as positioning, location based and personalized promotions, information sharing, routing services and many more can be provided in large areas such as airports, museums, warehouses, nature parks, shopping centers and fairgrounds.

Imagine the location and route for the booth you would like to visit at the exhibition area is in your smartphone or smart watch. Imagine that the history and the information about the creator of the art pieces exhibited in the museum are presented to you through the headphones inserted in your smartphone. Imagine that you can plot and observe the heat map of the traffic information of your warehouse and make the necessary improvements. Imagine the possibility of getting information about personalized offers and products via your phone right after you step into a mall. All these can be achieved through Beacon technology.


The invention of GPS technology has revolutionized the outdoor positioning. Considering today’s requirements along with outdoor positioning systems, indoor positioning systems have also become a necessity. Accordingly, positioning technologies started to be used indoors and take place within the sector. GPS technology cannot be used indoors. as it works via satellite-based positioning. Therefore, new systems and standards have emerged for indoor positioning. Indoor positioning systems are more complex than the positioning done using GPS. Because satellites are not enough for these positioning systems and should have certain infrastructures. Because GPS signals tend to weaken and dissipate on the roofs, they do not work within indoors and are inefficient at the narrow streets. However, Beacon technology is capable to meet the increasing need for indoor positioning systems that are also used in many industries. Thanks to Beacon technology, it is possible to do a positioning in indoor areas with a margin of error between 70 and 100 cm. This technology works with the same logic of GPS technology. The radio transmitter in Beacon technology substitutes for the transmitter in GPS technologies. Thus, using a device with a Bluetooth receiver, the position of the Beacon can be determined with high accuracy even in indoors.


Taking into account the comparisons described above, Beacon is considered to be the best option for factors such as interior positioning, communication and analysis. Thanks to this technology, an infrastructure can be provided that has flexibility, accuracy and low cost. In addition to that, it gives an opportunity to the enterprises regarding all existing and new potential mobilization applications. While Beacon technology is applicable in all industries, it also provides flexibility and high accuracy with low cost. By these means, it is an important opportunity for the enterprises.


Virgin Atlantic launched a Beacon trial in May 2014 at the Upper Class Wing at London Heathrow Airport. At the start of the trial, Virgin used beacons to offer their customers electronic boarding pass delivery when they approached to the private security checkpoints. They were also informed about Virgin’s special offer on commission-free exchange purchase agreements.

SXSW, one of the world’s most prominent film and music festivals, used it for the participants who downloaded the official SXSW mobile app to their smart devices. Users received a warning with Registration QuickCode when they are close to SXSW registration booths, that encouraged them to participate in the discussions in the SXSW app forum. This solution also allowed them to see the participants they interacted within the forum and their related tweets.

Hillshire Brands introduced Beacon technology in 10 stores in the US to track  the journey through the aisles of the market in order to send discount coupons or advertisements for their customers’ sausages, when they get close to this section of the store.

Offering an offline data-driven retail experience with Shopkick (an application of coupon delivery based on locations and used by the best national retailers such as Best Buy, Sports Authority, JCPenney and Target) Macy is able to track customer movements in their stores, send product recommendations and apply discounts, and inform the shoppers about the sales items by using the Beacon technology.

In July 2014, Hudson’s Bay Company used Beacon technology for in-store experiences to send targeted notifications, branded content, and personalized offers which includes the location of the shoppers.

With Beacon technology, Starwood Hotels & Resorts accelerate the check-in experience of the guests by taking the data of their room availability to enable the planning for housekeeping, allow the guests to skip the check-in process and go directly to their rooms, and open the room doors without a key, by using their smartphones when approached the room.

In March 2014, Major League Baseball used Beacons within the 28 stadiums out of 30 in the US. This allowed people to get Beacons vouchers, seat upgrades, personal offers, videos of game replays, and tickets via application by using bluetooth technology.

In February 2014, more than 100 American Eagle and Aerie stores in US used the Shopkick application to share prizes, discounts and product suggestions with customers. Beacons located in different places enabled this, without the necessity of opening the app, but merely being in the close proximity of a beacon.

Japan Airlines launched a Beacon trial at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The company used this technology to enable airline ground personnel to access the company information and check flight status, as well as using it to send offers and product information to customers to improve their business processes in real terms.

In June 2014, American Airlines launched a 6-month Beacon trial at Forth Worth Airport in Dallas (DFW). A small group of customers downloaded the American Airlines application were able to access the departure information and the closest safety checkpoints, as well as notifications that would help them navigate within the airport better, including the information about the distance to the gates.

The popular lotion brand Nivea launched the StickNFind application to help parents watch their children when they are on the beach. A pop-up bracelet was sent to the subscribers of Veja Rio magazine, along with an advertisement. By wrapping the water-resistant wristband around a child’s arm and downloading the Nivea application, parents were able to identify a safe area on the beach for the child. An alarm was sent to the parent’s smartphone when the child left the safe zone.

Duane Reade, which is the largest pharmacy chain in New York City currently owned by Walgreens, used Beacon technology for features such as weekly ads and offers, pill reminders, appointment scheduling, shopping list saving, and ordering photo prints from Instagram. Customers also received notifications (even on locked screens) near a store and got personalized discount offers based on what they have previously purchased.

Walmart uses Beacon technology in their stores to send push notifications to the customers on special offers and discount coupons. In this way, customers can benefit special offers personalized for them while walking around in the store.

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