How Beacon Wayfinding is Changing Indoor Navigation

How Beacon Wayfinding is Changing Indoor Navigation

GPS changed the way we think about moving. Now, with navigation available on our smartphones, we’re able to take maps with us almost everywhere we go. This is a welcome change as modern users are often very busy, constantly running from one place to the other. However, for all the good GPS does in outdoor navigation, it does little for users indoors in a smaller space. That’s why companies are turning to beacons to change indoor navigation.

[Free PDF] Click here to download the Indoor Navigation with Bluetooth Beacons white paper.

The numbers: real world wayfinding stats

Of course, it’s not just a vague interest in wayfinding that’s driving change–it’s real investments. Solution providers and businesses know that navigation will benefit their users. That’s why we’ll be seeing more investment in the field as well as more results. In fact, analysts expect the global Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation (IPIN) market to grow at a CAGR of 58.90% from 2017 to 2021. Or, as this study from Technavio puts it: the global indoor positioning and indoor navigation market will grow to USD 7.8 billion by 2021.

We have GPS! Who needs indoor wayfinding?

The benefits of indoor navigation are huge and diverse. First, it enhances customer experience. Never again should a customer be forced to wander around a huge mall looking for a particular store. Users shouldn’t waste time just finding a place. That part should be easy!

Second, better wayfinding increases efficiency for both employees and businesses. With more users able to find the desired location there could be an opportunity for increased sales and more interactions. Of course, by giving employees indoor navigation abilities (especially real-time based indoor navigation), businesses can optimize every step of their employee’s day. Employees can now know the shortest route from their far-off, random location to a specific container in a warehouse. A doctor can find their next patient in a snap without having to think twice. In short, there will be no more guesswork and much more efficiency.

Common searches

  • Where is the new exhibit?
  • Where is this hospital wing?
  • Where can I find an elevator?
  • Where is the cruise ship’s biggest lounge?
  • Where is a particular manufacturing asset?
  • Where is the shortest queue?

Moreover, every vertical can benefit from indoor navigation with beacons. Retail, healthcare, manufacturing all benefit.–even gyms and zoos, schools and anywhere else you move.

get the Comparison of wayfinding with different technologies

What’s the tech? Why is BLE different?

When it comes to indoor navigation, there are multiple ways to find your way around a space. However, what first comes to mind are tools like QR and NFC. With these technologies, it’s easy: you scan the code and then immediately know where you are. But there’s also a problem. This is passive technology. Users have to actively interact with each and every code (not to mention, find the codes in the first place).

Imagine having to locate and scan a new barcode every time you wanted to know your location. That’s passive wayfinding. It’s a very affordable solution–but not a very practical one for most users.

active vs passive in indoor navigation

So what about active solutions? Active solutions are able to communicate with phones at a greater distance. This means, when you walk into a room, your phone already knows exactly where you are—no scanning required. Sounds useful, doesn’t it? So why don’t you have this in your local cafe, favorite store, or nearest airport?

There’s a very good reason that these solutions aren’t yet common practice. In short, the technology wasn’t readily available until recently. WiFi-based indoor navigation systems, or other, more precise systems, come with a large price tag. This high cost has deterred most businesses from ever investing. Beacon navigation, on the other hand, is notably affordable, and, since it’s introduction in 2013, it’s only getting stronger.


Here’s how it works.

Most commonly, the space owner (whether it’s a hospital operator or your office manager) will install a relatively small number of beacons. For example, one for each room or general area. These are small devices roughly the size of a golf ball. When you walk into or approach a room, an associated app will use the broadcasted beacon information to find your location on the map.

That all happens in real-time. That means, instead of simply showing you a static map, the app can give you a blue dot location describing exactly where you are. It could even be programmed to give you turn-by-turn directions to your destination. If you’re looking for a specific room in a large hospital or searching for the bathrooms in a big mall, that blue dot means instant and actionable location data.

But it doesn’t stop there. This “real-time” capability is a big deal for managers. Depending on the particular situation, there are a number of actions managers can take to use navigation. They can create new revenue streams, analyze visitor movements and needs, or offer new options.

Here are just a few examples.

  • Up-to-date maps: no need to buy new physical signs or update standing maps every time something changes. Because the map is stored digitally, they can also be updated quickly, easily, and basically for free.
  • Augmented reality support: warehouse picking involves going into crowded rooms filled with nearly identical packages and picking out the right asset. AR isn’t just a cool fad for many industries but rather an inevitable fast developing must-have.
  • Direct shoppers and users: ads can be annoying. If marketers want to create ads that users will actually appreciate, they need to think differently. That means using better timing and better information. With navigation, marketers and companies can give users wayfinding information to find the products they want when they want them.
  • Automated tours: digitalizing the wayfinding process also means adding completely new capabilities. No need to manually show visitors or new folks around. They can find all directions and even related documentation or images in an app.
  • Congested space optimization (and queue management): whether it’s public transit or a crowded airport queue, real time navigation allows businesses to direct users as necessary. When one area is crowded, users can be automatically warned or redirected.
  • Limited mobility + language support: Instead of wandering around looking for an elevator or escalator, digitized maps can help those with certain restrictions find their way in real time. Plus, it can also offer support in a multitude of languages that wouldn’t fit on a physical sign.

download the Indoor Navigation white paper

What about your data?

Maybe it all sounds great to you. You’re sold on active navigation. But isn’t that a lot of personal information? It’s important that modern mobile users fully understand that Bluetooth beacons do not store any data on anyone. They couldn’t even if they tried. However, those apps that use beacons may be storing movement data.

Most often, this data is used to optimize processes. That means, just because you use an app to find your way around a cruise ship, doesn’t mean you should be receiving any messages outside of that app and the company shouldn’t be storing any sensitive information. What managers want to know is how their users move. Do people your age and demographic tend toward a certain path? How can managers make your experience better? In the end, data is generally stripped of anything unique or defining. Thus, your search for the hospital bathroom at 2AM won’t be forever recorded as a valuable data point. The movement may be part of one bundle of vague data points in a sea of millions that tells managers a little about their visitors overall movements.

Where can you find beacon navigation solutions in the real world?

Indoor navigation is one of the more popular uses of beacon technology available—likely because of how many people and verticals that can benefit from it. That’s why we wrote up a complete report on it. Including dozens of real-world use cases and interviews with top names in the field, this white paper should be a solid introduction for anyone interested in indoor navigation with beacons.

which verticals need indoor navigation? offices, public spaces, healthcare, and industry
Here are some of our favorite indoor navigation use cases

Ribera del Duero
The entire tourism industry relies on visitors being able to find the right location with ease, yet one key pain points for tourists is simply finding their way on a daily basis. In 2015, a project was implemented at the famous Spanish wine route, Ribera del Duero, to help tourists get around the area. Beacons helped users answer questions like “where am I?” or “what am I looking at?”

This new communication campaign helped grow the number of visitors from 83,000 visitors in 2010 to 269,000 in 2015. Not to mention, this also meant millions of euros in extra annual revenue and the creation of several jobs in Ribera del Duero.

City of Wellington
Sometimes, it’s not enough to have just a few shops here and there beaconized. For the city of Wellington, wayfinding with beacons meant giving new opportunities to vision-impaired residents. In a great case of “go big or go home,” the city decided to set beacons all over town. Backed by the Wellington City Council, the project deployed 200 beacons in the central business district.

The deployment was praised by the city’s mayor as “a first for New Zealand and will build Wellington’s reputation as a smart and accessible destination” and “will welcome people with visual impairments to participate fully in the life of the city.”

University of Lodz
The University of Lodz installed beacons across 38 buildings and dormitories to help 1,200 international students find their way around. the spring semester of 2015. When a student passes a beacon, they trigger information about where they are, what they can do there, and how to get to common destinations. Though international students were the initial driver of this campaign, wayfinding around university areas, libraries, and facilities benefits parents and ordinary students as well.

How can you build a powerful indoor navigation app?

We talked to a dozen solution providers to get their best tips on building an indoor navigation solution. Interestingly, the problems they faced were seldom related to the technology. Beacons and algorithms largely function as expected. The biggest problems were related to business models and implementations.

  • Help customer define and drive ROI with their wayfinding system: a solution doesn’t succeed just because an infrastructure was installed and an app was released. It succeeds because it is used, valued, and drives some kind of return. It’s surprisingly easy for businesses to forget to focus on how they should drive real-world returns, so keep every one on track. Don’t focus just on technology and implementation. Focus on results.
  • Understand different deployment strategies and troubleshooting: deployment is relatively simple–in theory. However, this can vary drastically depending on the size and complexity of the deployment. Always plan as much as possible before deploying, know the venue inside and out (not just as rooms on a map) and be prepared.
  • Push education: How do beacons really work? How do users really use indoor navigation in this use case? Don’t accept the obvious or first-reaction answers. Dive into what the real needs are and make sure solution providers and businesses are on the same page.
  • Be ready to adapt: No two projects are identical. Just because an infrastructure succeeded in one situation doesn’t mean you can simply replicate it elsewhere. Treat every business and project as unique.

You can get the complete breakdown in our white paper below.

indoor_navigation_coverLearn more about indoor navigation with Bluetooth beacons. Click here to download a free white paper.






Hannah Augur - Photo
Content writer / tech blogger / geek based in Berlin. Hannah reports on all things tech and has a medium-sized tolerance for buzzwords.

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