When Apple launched iBeacons in 2013, people expected it to disrupt the way people experienced and interacted in physical spaces , in the same way that Apple disrupted the music industry through the iPod and the phone industry through the iPhone. Washington Post wrote that ibeacon is going to fundamentally change our lives.
However, even after 5 years and the efforts of giants like Google with Eddystone protocol and billions of dollars from Silicon Valley, beacons have failed miserably. .
So, why have the Bluetooth Beacons not lived up to their expectations ? And more importantly, what is the alternative? In the hype and excitement about the possibilities of BLE ( Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons, experts missed the salient cost, operational and behavioral considerations which have hampered user adoption..
Deployment cost : A single BLE beacon is cheap , but deploying over a large area such means that the cost multiply rapidly and it might cost from 40,000 USD for a small mall of size upto 200,000 square foot, to 400,000 USD for a mall of size of about 1 million square foot. This is a significant cost that creates a big barrier to entry, especially when businesses are investing it upfront.
Compatibility: Google has Eddystone, Apple has iBeacons and there are others in between. This lack of seamless integration increases costs as well as the complexity of BLE deployment.
BLE Beacon Management and scalability: Deploying a few beacons is easy, deploying in large number makes their management exponentially difficult. Correct placement of Beacons, their inventory management, regular battery change and general upkeep requires management infrastructure and costs making scalability difficult.
The Bluetooth behavior of users: Beacons only works if users have their Bluetooth turned on , but most users switch it off when not in use due to high battery consumption by Bluetooth. Battery consumption has been one of the major roadblocks affecting BLE adoption.
Isolated experience: Beacon’s experience and interaction are confined to a single channel of physical location. It’s limited in both the interaction and scope of the brand story and message. Delivering coupons in the store without knowing anything else about the customer adds little value to the business. .
The Internet of Sound ( audio/ultrasonic beacons ) is an interesting new option that solves these scalability and adoption bottlenecks. Audio beacons encode data in the inaudible frequency range (near-ultrasound) of sound which can be decoded by any phone . loudspeaker or smart device with a microphone. This essentially transforms every loud speaker into a data transmitter and every microphone into a data receiver.
The biggest advantage of this technology is scalability. There are already more loudspeakers on earth than people , and leveraging that pre-existing infrastructure to deliver proximity intelligence could succeed where beacons have failed.
Scalability: One huge advantage of audio beacons is that they do not need additional hardware. This makes them extremely easy to deploy, manage and scale. There is no cost or time associated with deployment.
Management: Nearly every public location has loudspeakers installed , and audio beacons could be managed via cloud or onsite , in the same way people manage music in their venue.
Compatibility: Audio beacons software is cross-platform , and works with Android, iOS as well as Windows .
Battery consumption: Microphones need very little power. The associated software stacks to run the audio beacons need some power, but it is 300% less battery intensive than Bluetooth. This solves one of the biggest user issues of Bluetooth beacons.
Integration: Audio beacons or data over audio is not just limited to speaker systems of physical locations , but can also be used in TV, Radio , and even social media platforms such as Youtube and Facebook. It can be part of the brand story and not an isolated experience. Retail proximity experience can succeed only if it incorporates the company’s knowledge of its existing customers , and ties it in with the existing brand story from multiple channels. Audio is the only option where this is possible.
McKinsey predicts that by 2025, IoT will have an 11 Trillion dollar worth of impact on the global economy and audio beacons will help this to come true. There are a few companies advancing the field of Internet of sound and Trillbit is one of the leaders in using sound for proximity intelligence.