Beacons are alive and well in the enterprise
Estimote launches new LTE beacon for unglamorous but important enterprise uses such as asset tracking in the supply chain.
When Apple introduced iBeacon in 2013, marketers and the tech press went wild with speculation and hype about these tiny Bluetooth Low Energy devices (I was among them). They would enable notifications and “hyper-local” information indoors, in stores, in museums, at live events and so on.
In the grocery store, you would receive the recipe of the day as you entered the produce department. Coupons could be pushed from a promoted product on an end cap. Retailers would know which departments of their stores you were in for analytics and retargeting purposes. They would enable hands-free payments from Apple and PayPal.
Indeed, all these scenarios were and are technically possible. The problem is that most of them just haven’t come to pass.
Resistance from retailers, confusion about vendors, questions about battery life, up-front spending requirements and lack of consumer demand conspired against widespread retail adoption of beacons. For their part, vendors couldn’t figure out whether to sell to IT or the CMO.
Today there are millions of beacons deployed globally. However, marketers and retailers have mostly written off beacons. But they have found a sustainable home in the enterprise in a range of non-marketing use cases.
Traditional beacon on the left, new LTE beacon on the right
Estimote was one of the early beacon companies, having launched in 2013. According to co-founder Steve Cheney, during the period of retail and marketing hype a few years ago, the company “created a somewhat retail-centric narrative to draft off hype.” But it has since shifted focus to “where the money is.” That is, solving pain points for enterprises.
Today the company announced a new LTE beacon for asset tracking:
It’s a small, wireless beacon that can compute both its precise indoor and outdoor position. It can talk directly to the cloud and last multiple years on a battery.
Estimote LTE Beacons are designed primarily to seamlessly locate assets and vehicles when they move between indoor and outdoor environments. Their secure firmware/cloud software is crafted to provide true “proof of location” and “proof of delivery.”
Indeed Unacast, which tracks beacon deployments globally, has found that asset tracking throughout the supply chain is one of the primary uses of beacon technology today. Estimote is the number two beacon provider in the world, according to Unacast’s data.
Estimote’s Steve Cheney told me that the top three markets for the company’s new, more powerful beacon are:
- Hospitality (housekeeping staff can wear a “panic button” beacon that quickly alerts other hotel personnel to their precise location in the event of an assault or related problem)
- Healthcare (patients in hospitals can be quickly located and more rapidly aided if necessary)
- Trucking/logistics—asset tracking (beacons used for granular GPS-like tracking indoors)
Slowly but surely the Internet of Things (IoT) is being developed using an array of sensor technologies, WiFi and beacons. In the latter case, the many prophecies of indoor location and marketing were off (or perhaps premature). But beacons are far from dead and slowly gaining adoption — just not in the ways or in the sectors we initially expected.