2017 has been a great year for Bluetooth tags and beacons. Steady growth is transforming them from knick-knacks to big contenders in business use cases. We asked some of the industry's biggest names for their opinions in order to illuminate what's happening for Bluetooth tags across the board.
*For an introduction to beacons, find our complete guide here.
We asked them about:

What will be trending in Bluetooth tags and beacons in 2018?

Check out the full Bluetooth Beacon Industry 2018 Report

Asif R. Khan, Founder & President of Location Based Marketing Association
I see continued strong growth in beacon technology in 2018. Bluetooth 5.0 makes the use case for bigger venues possible. I see the trend being shift from predominantly retail applications to larger deployments in smart buildings, smart cities, healthcare and government.
Chuck Martin, Editor of IoT Daily at MediaPost
Now that countless trials have been done, we can expect a much wider range of actual deployments. As during trials, many of these are likely to remain quiet and not publicized, since numerous companies see this as a competitive advantage
Szymon Niemczura, CEO at Kontakt.io
We can already see that the market of fixed beacon infrastructure is getting there. But the new growth I think will be happening in new ways of using beacons. We’ve been forecasting this for two years, since we started building the Tough Beacon and the very first Gateway and Location Engine. It’s also now clear that people are using these tools for much more than just tagging and digitalizing items. Condition monitoring, telemetry data over the Bluetooth tag data to smart phone and different devices. Much more is happening.
We will see beacons embedded in light fixtures and other devices simply to add this new layer. The need to add beacons to devices (say, a device in a hospital, to people in the office space). Is building real potential.
Alf Helge Omre, Business Development Manager at Nordic Semicondunctor
In 2018 the rollout of Beacons will take off. The main reason is that the lighting industry are implementing Beacon technology into light fixtures (hence, main powered).
(This will of course give retailers the possibility communicate with the customers, offer them indoor positioning and get analytic data.)
We are seeing a trend towards cloud connected managed beacons. We are not seeing the race to the bottom on price which was predicted some years ago. Customers are more concerned about maintaining cost, quality and future proof systems that can be upgraded using DFU OTA than pure cost.
Chuck Sabin, Director of Business Strategy at Bluetooth SIG
Analyst firm Gartner codified the idea of the “hype cycle,” when new technology is frequently met with a surge of interest, followed by waning hype, and then truly useful products slowly gain traction. As predicted in 2017’s technology forecast, while the hype of beacons has been around since 2013, we are seeing clear evidence of the beacon revolution with industrial/commercial automation, personal/asset tracking and wayfinding leading the way.
Large scale beacon adoption is occurring in the healthcare sector including major hospitals in Kansas City and Cincinnati, where beacons are being leveraged to manage and track resources and streamline patient monitoring. Airports, like smart airport posterchild Gatwick, also continues to roll out beacons for wayfinding. We also saw retail deployments expand, as retailers began testing out how to utilize Bluetooth beacons to improve the customer experience.
In 2018, the application of beacons in retail settings will be the trend to watch, and reports from Technavio and Grand View Research are looking to this as well. Retailers are exiting the testing phase, and we’re seeing beacon integration within security cameras, LED lighting grids, point of sale devices, signage, and vending machines come into play. Target made headlines this year for rolling out widespread beacon technology in over 1,000 stores. The beacons communicate with the Target app to guide individuals around the aisles, helping them find specific items and providing information about nearby deals. More major retailers will follow suit during 2018.
Steve Statler, SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Wiliot, a.k.a. Mr. Beacon
There will be beacons everywhere and in everything. Unbeknown to most people, the National Emergency Address Database LLC, jointly owned by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, has just finished developing a database to track all the Wi-Fi access points and Bluetooth beacons in the United States. The driver was to meet those carriers’ commitment to the FCC to deliver floor level and maybe even room level dispatchable address information to 911 first responders. The NEAD database won’t be available for commercial use, but this public safety initiative could do for indoor location what military applications did for outdoor location / GPS.
In 2018 there will also be a growing number of pilot projects to embed Bluetooth beacons into packaging for high value consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and sports apparel. By 2019 the cost of a “passive” (battery free) Bluetooth beacon will be less than a dollar, and the Total Cost of Ownership will be reduced by an order of magnitude.

What was the biggest story, innovation, or upset in 2017?


Asif R. Khan, Founder & President of Location Based Marketing Association
For me the biggest story is the advent of “visual positioning technology.” Historically, we’ve always relied on beacons and wifi for indoor navigation which can be costly and difficult to manage and obtain accuracy. Both Google and Blippar have announced new methods of determining position via image recognition and computer vision technologies that have the potential to change the game. When coupled with where image and voice-based search are going, I expect huge advances in 2018.
Chuck Martin,Editor of IoT Daily at MediaPost
The big story of the year was voice. Most notably, digital voice assistants are being adopted across the board, whether via mobile device or smart home speakers. And of course, the artificial intelligence combined with all those digital voices.
Szymon Niemczura, CEO at Kontakt.io
Easy: Bluetooth 5. It’s a very good sign for the IoT with Bluetooth layer. It means that we are really moving toward Bluetooth. It’s the entire industry really building up this way. Of course, it’s not fully there yet. It’s not mesh. It’s not final. But every journey starts with a first step. So we finally started this journey and the direction is set.
Chuck Sabin, Director of Business Strategy at Bluetooth SIG
For Bluetooth, the introduction of mesh networking is our biggest innovation story during 2017. Bluetooth mesh opens a whole new world of use cases that were not previously possible. Moving beyond broadcast to device networks, Bluetooth mesh technology is ideally suited for building automation, sensor networks, asset tracking, etc. This will ultimately impact the role beacons play in these larger network settings.
This will transform the current generation of sensor devices into large scale sensor networks. In other words, mesh allows beacons to become part of the sensor network fabric where thousands of devices can reliably and securely communicate with one another. Beacon technology can be implemented in large or complex environments with Bluetooth mesh networking, taking advantage of the strict reliability, scalability, and performance requirements necessary for the commercial and industrial markets.
Steve Statler, SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Wiliot, a.k.a. Mr. Beacon
Google’s Eddystone URL standard was a great idea and it still has a great future, but when the integration with Chrome never made it fully out of Beta and into production, we were left with a user experience that confined the messages to users to low priority alerts from the Android OS onto the lock screen and status bar.
It’s going to take self-discipline from the ecosystem to avoid SPAMy campaigns that add real value to users if we are going to coax Google into finally pulling the trigger and adding Physical Web to its flagship browser.

What hurdle must beacons and Bluetooth tags overcome in 2018?


Asif R. Khan, Founder & President of Location Based Marketing Association
There are two major hurdles that beacons must overcome. First, is the cost of battery replacement and maintenance. There are other emerging solutions like magnetic, visible light, etc. that are seeing early success without these limitations.
Second is software integration. While most of the beacon platforms have solved the security and cloud management aspects, almost none have done a great job of building strong APIs for linking up with things like POS, CRM, and loyalty platforms. And as we shift from retail to B2B and enterprise applications this will become an even bigger issue. In other words, we need to start pairing location data with customer data.
Chuck Martin,Editor of IoT Daily at MediaPost
There’s still the overarching fear of consumers being bombarded with unwanted messages based on their location. This is mainly a perception rather than a reality, since anyone using beacons long ago determined that sending unwanted messages is not an effective strategy. After this, the use case and investment return has to be clearly articulated and demonstrated.
Szymon Niemczura, CEO at Kontakt.io
It’s always difficult for technology that requires infrastructure. They take time and a lot of expertise. Users are faced with pitfalls, deployments and high-risk settings where they don’t have any experience. Working with beacons requires proper knowledge to mitigate the risks. That’s why we made our service unit. This will help the market to move faster. We share our experience over our blog and communications, and it is important that more and more companies in the space open up and share their knowledge.
We’ve seen too many large beacon projects fail because the companies involved didn’t provide a 360 degree approach.
Alf Helhe Omre, Business Development Manager at Nordic Semicondunctor
Especially in the retail sector the shop owner must work with customer awareness.  They must find a good way to inform customers how to use and the benefits they get from using a beacon system.
Make indoor positioning maps easily available and give customers real benefits so they will start interacting with the beacon systems.
Chuck Sabin, Director of Business Strategy at Bluetooth SIG
Consumer awareness is a major obstacle that is still holding beacon technology back. Lack of awareness can largely be attributed to lack of experience. The average person has yet to interact firsthand to see how beacons work or the value they provide. While there have been smaller implementations at the consumer level, they are generally for a limited segment of the population, including wayfinding in select airports or at tech events like SXSW or CES.
Lack of awareness, however, will fade away as more retailers and businesses begin to implement networks of beacons at a larger scale. New retail implementations will go beyond early tests like the Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle, to major retailers like Target who is taking the technology national, increasing awareness and touching far more consumers.
Related to this, advancements to beacon technology in Bluetooth 5 will be introduced to more smartphones as we enter 2018. HTC, Samsung, and Apple have already implemented Bluetooth 5 into their newest devices, and adoption will continue to expand. Bluetooth 5 introduced the ability to increase the amount of information delivered via the beacon broadcast by up to 8X, enabling even smarter beacon services. For example, a beacon previously used in a retail environment might have broadcasted a coupon for a nearby product. Now, with Bluetooth 5, the beacon can broadcast even more relevant data – including the store map of the exact product location, a URL to more information, and details on how many items are left in stock.
Steve Statler, SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Wiliot, a.k.a. Mr. Beacon
For enterprises to invest in beacon enabled solutions in large numbers, they need to see the fruits of the early adopters’ investments publicized at conferences and in the industry specific publications that they trust. That’s still a work in process.
Plus, now that NFC is supported by iOS 11, general confusion as to when to use NFC and when to use beacons will increase.


Need more insight on Bluetooth beacons and tags in 2018? Make sure to check out our complete industry report.

What will be trending in Beacon Technology in 2018?

Check out the full Bluetooth Beacon Industry 2018 Report
Beacons in the Enterprise
It’s hard to find a beacon solution provider who isn’t either pivoting to the enterprise or increasing their focus on the space. The reasons are clear, success of Enterprise projects is easier to control. Employees generally have to do what they are told to do, customers not so much. Applications like asset tracking are saving capital spend in hospitals, with more efficient usage of scarce equipment. If they can track pallets, tools and staff, factories can increase yield, reduce write offs, and better support leaner just-in-time production. Office space and meeting rooms can be managed better now that the RFID cards employees are issued can include a Bluetooth chip.
Beacons Everywhere
Unbeknown to most people, the National Emergency Address Database LLC, jointly owned by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, has just finished developing a database to track all the Wi-Fi access points and Bluetooth beacons in the United States. The driver was to meet those carriers’ commitment to the FCC to deliver floor level and maybe even room level dispatchable address information to 911 first responders. This could save lives and reduce the disabilities that result when ambulance crews can’t find a stroke victim in a timely manner. As a result, not only will building owners have a philanthropic incentive to deploy Bluetooth beacons in every room to save lives, it will also reduce their liability and insurance costs. If first responders can’t find someone in distress because building owners failed to invest in beacon infrastructure, that building owner may be liable to litigation from friends and family of the victim. The NEAD database won’t be available for commercial use, but this public safety initiative could do for indoor location what military applications did for outdoor location / GPS.
Beacons in Everything
In 2018 there will be a growing number of pilot projects to embed Bluetooth beacons into packaging for high value consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and sports apparel. By 2019 the cost of a “passive” (battery free) Bluetooth beacon will be less than a dollar, and the Total Cost of Ownership will be reduced by an order of magnitude.
Semiconductor companies like Wiliot (full disclaimer: I work for Wiliot, who also underwrite the Mr. Beacon Podcast) are working on Bluetooth radios that will harvest their energy from radio waves, reducing the size of a fully functioning system with an ARM processor, sensors and an antenna to that of a finger nail.
This will be great news for the entire Bluetooth ecosystem. Hub vendors, gateway vendors and beacon vendors will sell more products as these tiny leaves (passive beacons) augment their powered branches of the IoT tree. With the addition of these extensions to beacon infrastructure, the Internet of Things will scale at an accelerated rate. Products and packaging will become a lot smarter.
Beacons in Advertising
Don’t expect Apple or Google to do much more with their beacon standards. iBeacon and Eddystone are to all intents and purposes done. Apple’s business drivers are around experiences that drive the use of the phone. Google now has what it needs to build the links between AdWords and the Bluetooth beacon ecosystem. Some of the most successful beacon solutions have been in the world of advertising and promotions, e.g. ShopKick, inMarket and Verve. These have been successful because they have been focused on specific market segments and have provided a complete solution to brands. The companies that can really monetize this technology are only just getting started. Keep a watch on Facebook and Google for that.

What's holding beacon technology back/what hurdles must they overcome in 2018?

There are different factors for different use cases.
Advertising
It’s still about achieving scale. No brand is going to fully commit to beacon triggered location advertising until it can do so across all markets. The players who have achieved success so far have done so by sharing revenues, or at least value between all the stakeholders, in particular venues and app publishers. This has driven the deployment of beacons in niches. Facebook and Google probably won’t be so generous to venue owners and so that means the infrastructure will need to grow another way.
Enterprise
For enterprises to invest in beacon enabled solutions in large numbers, they need to see the fruits of the early adopters’ investments publicized at conferences and in the industry specific publications that they trust. That’s still a work in process. The solutions need to be more complete and the performance of the systems needs to continue to improve further. Within a few months the Bluetooth standard will evolve to support profiles that will raise the accuracy of an RTLS significantly, so that performance increase will happen and we can expect a spike in adoption as a result.
Confusion about NFC
Now that NFC is supported by iOS 11, confusion as to when to use NFC and when to use beacons will increase. This will be resolved as solution designers realize the limitations of NFC on iPhones (you need an app to be running – unlike on Android) and beacon vendors continue to embrace both NFC and BLE radio technologies in their products.

What would you consider the biggest story, innovation, or upset in 2017?

The iBeacon / Eddystone Non-Roadmap
iBeacon 2.0 never appeared and Google Eddystone appears to be done. It’s unlikely that either standard will evolve much, so we need to get over that and fill in the remaining few gaps ourselves. Google did a good job of filling in most of the big gaps, but there still remain a few, like the limited payload on the TLM packet. We need a standard way of sharing sensor information beyond the battery life of a beacon. We also need to consider what to do for users that don’t trust Google. Better interoperability would help the ecosystem grow - after all who wants to commit to a single source for their beacons? AltBeacon anyone?
What Physical Web?
Google’s Eddystone URL standard was a great idea and it still has a great future, but when the integration with Chrome never made it fully out of Beta and into production, we were left with a user experience that confined the messages to users to low priority alerts from the Android OS onto the lock screen and status bar.
That said, when we deployed Physical Web beacons at San Diego airport, we saw a 100x more engagement than from the QR code and NFC smart posters that were offered at the same time. It’s going to take self-discipline from the ecosystem to avoid SPAMy campaigns that add real value to users if we are going to coax Google into finally pulling the trigger and adding Physical Web to its flagship browser.
Consolidation – Shake-out
Crossing the digital to physical chasm is taking longer than we all hoped – some beacon companies have either disappeared or consolidated with others in order to combine their pieces of the puzzle and deliver more complete solutions.
As stronger players with larger customer bases and better solutions continue to grow, expect to see more funding rounds as they replenish their coffers for the long journey “crossing the chasm”.
Most of the major beacon players are offering richer solution layers that allow them to monetize their hardware.
In Conclusion
None of the challenges that face the “Beacosystem” should surprise us. I’m more optimistic this year than the last year when I made my contribution to this prognostication project.
 
Steve Statler
SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Wiliot a.k.a. Mr. Beacon
www.wiliot.com
www.mister-beacon.com


Need more insight on Bluetooth beacons and tags in 2018? Make sure to check out our complete industry report.

 
 
 
 

What's happening in 2018 and beyond in the beacon industry? We wrote the white paper. Here's some of our findings.
Check out the full Bluetooth Beacon Industry 2018 white paper
We talked to experts about the ups and downs of 2017, what's going to be trending in 2018, and what kind of changes we can expect in the beacon market. Now, we're putting our heads together and talking to insiders and customers to find out what we can expect from the Bluetooth beacon market in 2018 and beyond.
Some of the most surprising insights we found didn't necessarily concern deployments that are happening right this second but rather changes we can expect to continue in the long term. Perhaps the most pressing of all: mobile.

Mobile Solutions

Businesses recognized long ago that customers were going mobile. Smart phones and devices became crucial to any and all customer-facing efforts. This is where the beacon first came in. It was also obvious that simply sending messages to customers via mobile wasn't enough. You had to send the right messages.
Proximity information gave marketers and managers the ability to send more appropriate messages. This made customers more likely to click. However, customers and visitors in public venues aren't the only ones moving to mobile. Hospital patients, administrators, warehouse employees, and everyone in between is on mobile.


As providers and businesses continue to see value in expediting processes, we'll see an increase in mobile solutions in new industries. From check-in to navigation and delivering post-visit information, several steps can be either automated or at least supported through mobile. This is a need currently defining many industries, and beacons will play an important role in making the shift to mobile fully possible.
In numbers

What about passive technologies or the supposed competition with active RFID? What else is moving the beacon industry? Check out our complete breakdown on the beacon industry in 2018 including:

[Updated for 2020]
[Updated for 2020]