Use of Beacons in Smart City Applications

Purple Forge Smart City apps support the use of Beacons for a variety of uses. Purple Forge solutions work with a wide variety of beacon types, providing ready-to-deploy solutions off-the-shelf.   Purple Forge solutions provide  unique capabilities integrated into our solutions which simplify operating and managing large-scale beacon deployments.

What are “Beacons”?

Beacons are small physical devices (as small as a quarter), which broadcast a radio signal that can be detected by smartphones. Note that “beacon” and “iBeacon” terms are often used interchangeably. iBeacon is an Apple specific implementation of a beacon. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is often used in reference to beacons and refers to the radio signal that the beacons transmit. Note that beacons are transmitting only devices, signaling a unique ID. Purple Forge Mobile Apps as a Service (MAaaS) apps will detect beacon broadcasts and take action based on knowing the unique ID of the beacon.

Some general characteristics of beacons as they relate to venues and proximity marketing – beacons:

  • Allow smartphones and apps to determine their proximity to things or places where the beacon is located or attached to;
  • Work indoors where GPS does not work well;
  • Are inexpensive;
  • Are easy to install (usually applied by sticking onto a wall or surface); and
  • Last a long time without needing new batteries or replacement
  • Beacon support is currently limited to Apple devices.  Android device compatibility and support is still early.

Beacon Capabilities

When Purple Forge solutions detect a beacon, they can do one or more different general actions:

  • Record analytic information (e.g. urban activity monitoring)
  • Display information (e.g. information related to something nearby, “this is your city dashboard”)
  • Trigger an action (e.g. activate a functionality, survey request, form, transactions)

Beacons are detected based on distance of the user to the beacon and whether the user is approaching or moving away from the beacon.

When considering beacon use cases, it is important to review other options such as local notifications or geo-fences.  These options can deliver similar functionalities without the need for physical beacon hardware deployments.  Beacons are generally a good choice for indoor venues, or use cases which are tied to proximity for physical objects (e.g. public art).

Beacon Deployment Considerations

When deploying beacons, the following considerations apply when deciding how to deploy to support your requirements:

  • Users must have a Purple Forge MAaaS application installed with Bluetooth enabled
  • Users must be running at least iOS7 on supported devices: iPhone 4S or later, iPad 3 or later, any iPad mini, iPod touch 5th generation or later
  • Beacon detection times on smartphones can range from instantaneous to minutes
  • Beacon configuration is required prior to deployment and includes: proximity UUID, major and minor. Beacons may also have their transmit power pre-configured, which will affect the range at which it can be detected. Beacons may have upgradeable firmware, any upgrades would need to be applied prior to deployment.
  • The distance at which a beacon may be detected will vary based upon environmental factors which can interfere with the radio signal
  • Users who are bombarded with proximity alerts as they move around a venue are likely to simply turn off the capability, or worse they may remove your application from their phone – so it is important to carefully consider how you want to use proximity-based engagement in order to provide a pleasing experience that also serves your goals for marketing, customer service, or other purposes.
  • Operational requirements to support beacon deployments, e.g. pre-deployment configuration and testing of beacon devices; monitoring of deployed beacons to: ensure correct operation, monitor battery levels and schedule replacements, perform firmware audits and device upgrades, monitor in order to continuously confirm correct/expected location; and collect and report on beacon analytics.

Purple Forge can recommend or provide beacons to support your use case.  Purple Forge can also pre-configure your beacons for you to simplify deployment.