Stephen Statler is a veteran of the proximity industry and author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem. He's here to share his insights into what 2017 holds for beacon technology.
Beyond the maturing application and vendor ecosystem, we can expect plenty of other interesting action in the beacosystem: acquisitions, asset tracking, networks, more accuracy & Google doubling down.
In the last quarter we have seen two major acquisitions of beacon companies. We should expect to see more.
Both of this quarter's acquisitions had a common theme of enabling bigger vertically focused beacon solutions with a robust sales channel. One acquisition was an ad tech company (Mobile Majority) acquiring a beacon provider (Gimbal) to add fine grain location to their Programatic Advertising solutions. This is a great area for beacons where we will continue to see huge growth. The other was a merging of beacon powered asset tracking (from BluVision) with building security access control (from HID), driving beacon adoption into the enterprise. Again, a great market where we will see massive growth. Both of these acquisitions are likely to yield stronger business solutions that just happen to have beacons inside. This should help to spur acceptance by businesses interested in results, not what the technology is that is enabling those results.
We should expect to see more acquisitions driven by a need for beacon providers to grow their distribution channels and provide vertical solutions. The second tier beacon providers will be attractive targets as they are burning cash in a market that will take another couple of years to realize its full potential.
Asset Tracking has been one of the hottest markets for beacons and will get hotter still in 2017.
It’s all about volume. A store may require two or two hundred beacons to offer location services indoors. A factory with beacons on every worker, tool and pallet will require thousands. For manufacturers, the potential ROI is significant, with real efficiency gains and tighter compliance to safety regulations that can’t be ignored, especially when competitors that use beacons start raising the bar.
Targeting, retargeting and attribution for advertisers is an engine of growth that will generate huge revenues, but it's all about scale.
Advertisers want to be able to invest in national campaigns. To do that, beacon networks need to grow and they need to talk to each other. Think of the relationship that the wireless carriers have. They compete with each other and they cooperate at the same time, via roaming agreements that extend the coverage of their services and generate revenue when customers from their competitors roam onto their networks. This model makes sense in the beacon world, when one retailer has beacons from vendor ‘A' and another has beacons from vendor ‘B’. They will need to work together to satisfy the requirements from a brand whose products are sold in both stores and want to launch a campaign that covers both. Companies like Unacast aim to satisfy that need. The more beacons networks interoperate, the faster they will be able to grow.
As standards evolve, we should expect to see more accuracy.
This will open up more use cases and increase the wow factor when business people look at beacons as part of their strategies. Today we can support aisle level location, but product level location is more challenging to deliver at scale. Many use cases don’t require high accuracy, but having it takes an objection off the table and opens up possibilities we may not even have considered.
Google saw Apple's investment in 2016 and raised that bet significantly. We should expect to see them invest and innovate, growing the Eddystone ecosystem. This will be great for almost every player.
We need standards and infrastructure. We need great beacon support in our handsets. We should expect to see more great Physical Web experiences developed and more investment in boosting the apps that are built on top of all the Eddystone protocols. This is probably the biggest reason to be cheerful for any entrepreneur or solution designer. Google's core business is all about advertising and beacons could ultimately add tens of billions of dollars to that business. This is the product of increasing Google’s ad inventory into the physical realm and doubling the value of the existing inventory with better targeting and attribution. Google Search grew the web. Eddystone will grow the physical web and the broader Beacosystem.
We should expect to see a healthy growth in beacon technology adoption in 2017, but not an explosion.
Glass half full …
more and more pilots are starting to turn into production deployments. Beacons are no longer a strange, exotic technology. CIOs have budgeted for beacon deployments and while we have learned that these take time, they are happening. More and more retailers like CVS and Rite Aide are investing in national deployments. Panera Bread is figuring out the value to the user experience of being able to trigger orders to be picked up with beacons linked to their mobile app.
We are seeing a clear set of leaders amongst the new guard of innovative startups, companies like Kontakt.io. Having clarity and order in the eco-system is what the early majority of more conservative, larger customers want to see. Bolstering this is further commitment from the large infrastructure vendors such as Cisco. They made two big product announcements of virtual beacons with Beacon Point and API access to the Bluetooth radios in their Meraki Wi-Fi access points so that they are more beacon capable. This delivers a signal to the market that beacons are here to stay and that they are complementary to Wi-Fi. Cisco is taking a partner friendly approach and is partnering with beacon vendors like Kontakt.io whose offerings complement their infrastructure.
We are seeing the applications layer starting to fill out with the offerings of companies such as Rover Labs, who provide orchestration layer software that makes quality app development quick and easy. If beacons provide the operating system for the physical world, having good off-the-shelf apps is going to be key.
Glass half empty...
there is still a way to go in terms of a huge app ecosystem. This takes time. Watch 2017 for the big packaged Enterprise Resource Planning/Supply Chain/Warehouse Management Systems vendors to start to add support for beacons. This will be the key to the explosive growth we can expect to see in 2018.
Bluetooth 5 will be a useful enhancement for beacons, not a game changer.
The increased range of Bluetooth 5 is going to be helpful where beacons are being used to implement larger indoors geofences. iBeacon regions can extend further. This increased range will help the Physical Web. A single beacon will be able to broadcast Physical Web URLs that are relevant to a broader perimeter. Put an Eddystone-URL beacon at the top of a building and it will be able to provide visitors in the vicinity the ability to engage with relevant content.
Having longer range will not make a significant difference to the accuracy that we use for triggering alerts. The difference between Immediate, Near and Far will still be a very coarse grain measure due to the the nature of RSSI, or signal strength, as a way of measuring distance. A bigger payload will make the transmission of telemetry information more efficient. Google could add more sensor data to an Eddystone TLM packet for example.
The increased range of Bluetooth 5 provides a useful foundation for future enhancements as the industry goes beyond RSSI to estimate range and starts to use Angle of Arrival. Unlike RSSI based methods, with Angle of Arrival being able to situate beacons further away increases accuracy. In addition, being able to cover more range from a single beacon will allow a reduction in cost of the infrastructure required to deliver this much more accurate positioning.
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