Location Infrastructure Installer’s Guide Part 2: Deploying Wayfinding Solutions (Beacon Infrastructure)
For indoor wayfinding and similar purposes, the installation process can be complicated, but mostly requires a beacon-based structure that can interface with user devices to provide a seamless and safe experience.
In our last post, we talked about gateway and access point-based infrastructure, which is one of the two overall categories most installations fall under. The second category is beacon-based infrastructure. Each of these categories is aimed at different solutions and contexts, and requires a different approach to installation and use. You will need to choose the best infrastructure for your solution and project.
The essential difference is that in a gateway-based project, each asset is affixed with a beacon or tag, which then connects to a gateway that can be accessed using an application or specific hardware. Gateway based projects are used primarily for asset and employee tracking.
Beacon-based infrastructure, however, uses mobile phones to provide users with wayfinding information and location-specific contact that can be used for providing enhanced customer experience. Phones connect only to the beacon, keeping them separate from your local network and protecting the privacy of users. This makes the infrastructure ideal for public-based wayfinding applications.
How Does Beacon-Based Infrastructure Work?
Beacon-based infrastructure relies on the fact that all modern mobile phones have Bluetooth and are designed to work with location services. Thus, the user’s phone becomes the hardware needed to access the system. The user is required to download an indoor wayfinding app, which should be made available through the Apple Store and Google Play.
The app then uses the phone’s built-in Bluetooth to triangulate to beacons set up throughout your property. This provides the user with location-based content and indoor navigation and wayfinding. Standard phone location services will not work indoors and often lack the granularity needed to, for example, determine which exact gallery in an art museum the user is in. The app will thus include the indoor map, wayfinding ability, and a way to access location-based content. Visitor Wi-fi can be used to assist users in accessing content.
The phone can either upload its location to the cloud or keep it private. You can also program specific beacon units to trigger features on the phones. For example, you can have the phone notify users of a hotel amenity as they approach it. As the phones do all the calculations for wayfinding and route optimization (based off of past users), the beacons need little power, extending their lives.
How is the System Designed and Deployed?
The system consists of smart beacons placed in various locations through the building, generally on walls, an app that is downloaded onto the user’s phone, and location services and content pushed from the cloud. Data from phones should only be collected if the use case requires it, such as for visitor tracking in a hospital.
The initial design is thus based on the use case and the floor plan. The design for a museum, where the app is used to provide extra information or accessibility features such as audio signage may be quite different from an app used to help visitors navigate a large hospital and find their way to the patient or provider they are visiting.
The design process needs to include:
- Identifying initial walking routes through the facility. This can be based on routes commonly taken from a survey, or it can be used to set the ideal route. In our museum example, the app can be set to direct visitors through a series of displays that are meant to be viewed in a certain order. In a healthcare setting, walking paths can be set to ensure that visitors do not enter areas where infection control is an issue, and since walking paths are handled at a software level they can be changed as needed.
- Identify the existing AP layout, if there is one. Existing access points can be used as a starter beacon network if both solutions are being deployed.
- Lay out wayfinding beacons to complement the existing coverage.
- Install at least 20 beacons for testing purposes.
- Perform a wireless FingerPrinting survey to test the wayfinding app.
- Adjust the design, and update the floor plans and walking paths accordingly.
- Deploy and complete FingerPrinting.
Throughout the entire installation process, the specific use case needs to be kept in mind and best practices should be followed for deploying beacons.
Best Practices for Beacon Placement
Beacon placement needs to follow a plan and should never be randomly done. Getting full coverage requires knowing your needs and floor plan. You also need to choose the right beacon for your case and beacons should be configured off-site to save time. You should also:
- Make sure unauthorized people are unable to reach the beacons by using barriers or placing them at height.
- Beacons should not be mounted higher than 5m, as this can attenuate the signal and reduce accuracy.
- Beacons should be located where they are less likely to be hit or bumped by passing people or objects, or removed accidentally. This means that the ideal height for beacons is 3 to 5m off the ground, although this is not always possible.
- Avoid exposing beacons to high or low temperatures or to water.
- Beacons should not be mounted behind large obstacles, next to or behind metal objects, or within one meter of a corner. All of these can result in signals being blocked or absorbed. Metal is particularly known for reflecting Bluetooth signals.
- Coverage should be enhanced in key monitoring areas such as hotel front desks, or in areas that are likely to be crowded.
The floor plan should be made available to anyone working on beacon placement, as installers may detect problems that you initially missed. In addition, you should use the right mounting type for various beacons. For example, if beacons may need to be moved, then you can use velcro or double-sided tape to secure them. Other mounting types include plastic or metal zip ties and screws for permanent attachment. Wearable beacons might be used if you have employees that users may need to find, such as a concierge or on-duty doctor.
Deployment types include:
For many projects, a mixed deployment type is the best, but some sites may find that only point-based is sufficient.
Steps for Delivering a Good Project
To deliver the right infrastructure for yourself or a client, you need to follow certain best practices. For clients, start off with a business and technical workshop to go over their plans and establish what the use case actually is. Sometimes they may not know their own needs in detail without going over them with you. You should do your own site survey rather than relying on the client.
For projects that use wayfinding or content delivery, integration with existing Wi-Fi is key, and there needs to be Wi-Fi available to users. For most businesses, this means setting up a separate public-facing network to ensure security. In most buildings, cell phone coverage can be shaky and Wi-Fi is needed to download maps and content. Make sure that Wi-Fi signals are available throughout the site both for users and for the beacons themselves. Additional routers may be needed to properly support this.
Both the cellphone app to be provided to visitors and any software needed by employees need to be properly configured and tested. The visitor app should be tested across multiple devices including older or budget phones; accessibility questions can arise if not all devices can run the app. Employees need to be trained in the use of the app so they can assist visitors, and good documentation should be provided. (For accessibility reasons, the app should not be the only source of a floor plan in public-facing buildings). Handoff should only occur after all of the testing has been done to make sure the deployment meets the client’s needs and the app functions as intended.
Coverage should be tested by doing walkthroughs. Visitors should not have to raise their phone or move to get a good signal. For point-based deployment, make sure beacons are not so close together that the signals overlap, resulting in incorrect content being served.
Properly installing a beacon-based real time location system requires an understanding of both the specific use case and the site. There are no standard installs or shortcuts, although there are app engines that can be used to shorten the process of software development. The system has to be fully tested so that all users have access to it and implemented correctly to ensure full coverage.
Kontakt.io has the expertise needed to help you through the complex process of installing beacon-based systems. We have already done it many times, and we know exactly what systems and services are needed for different use cases. All you need to start is to contact us for a starter kit and to discuss your needs.