While a Bluetooth beacon may seem like a fancy new technology, remember it is still a piece of hardware and requires a management plan just like any other hardware implementation. Here are four things you should consider about how you are going to manage your fleet of beacons.
1. How many beacons do you need?
A Bluetooth beacon can cover an area of up to 70 meters, but depending on the type of beacon service you are building and the information you want to send your customers, you may want to install multiple beacons covering smaller regions. For example, if your goal is to increase the number of walk-ins you get from potential customers passing by your store, one max range beacon on the door may do the job, but if you want to use micro-location marketing you might want minimum range beacons on every shelf. Finally, remember that each beacon can only send a single ID. While you can build instructions into your app to display new messages if a beacon has been in range for a specified amount of time (Need more help? Ask an associate.) or if it has come back within range again (Welcome back!), to send different messages for different micro-locations (i.e. one message in the men’s department and another over in the women’s department) you will need multiple beacons sending different IDs.
2. Where will you place your beacons?
Beacon placement is a major consideration in efficiently achieving your goals with a beacon system. Ranging is critical–devices interact with a beacon the moment they come within range, so you want them to come in range right at the moment you want the message delivered. Design your system with this in mind, and don’t forget that beacons send out an omnidirectional signal–you need to locate them in the center of your targeted message-delivery zone or your design won’t work.
Second, many beacons are pretty and might be an interesting marketing gimmick in and of themselves, but don’t forget to consider structural interference and the possibility of theft when deciding where to place them.
Finally, maintenance considerations may also play a role in placement. Although most beacons have a lifespan greater than a year in general conditions, depending on service design and beacon signal configuration, it can shorten up to three or four months and needs to be changed freequently. In this case, using battery replaceable beacons and placing them so it can be easily accessible is prefered.
3. How will you update your beacon system?
If you are considering setting up a beacon system in multiple locations, it is very important to consider how you will roll out updates to each beacon in each location. When you want to simply change the information being sent, you can update the information from the app server very easily. However, if you want to make a change to the structure of your system, whether that be the transmit power of various beacons, the IDs they send, or how frequently they send out a signal, there are quite a few more considerations. Early-generation technology relied on individualized configuration with a smart device from within Bluetooth range and often required a trained technician. Therefore a designated team of beacon managers and on site manager training is needed, which can be costly if frequent beacon configuration change is required to provide the service you need.
4. How will you manage batteries?
Bluetooth beacons use Bluetooth LE, which consumes a fraction of the energy regular Bluetooth requires – but they will still run out of battery eventually, usually within a year or two. Therefore, you need to have a plan to check the remaining battery life and to change the batteries. If the beacons you selected do not allow you to change out their batteries, you will need to plan your replacement and reprogramming strategy as well. At the most basic level, this might mean regularly checking the battery level manually while on-site and within Bluetooth range, which all adds up to maintenance cost.