Click here to download a complete Beacon Buyer’s Guide.
We’ve covered the entry-level basics of what beacons are all about in a previous post. This time, we’re diving a little deeper and focusing on the subject of how to choose the right hardware for your project. Specifically, we’re going to look at how the details of a given use case has a strong influence on what you need to consider when dealing with the huge amount of hardware choices.
Making the right choice is easier when you can do a little preparation in the form of answering a few basic questions about what your beacon deployment is for and the environment where it will function. There are other factors that can influence your choice, like cost, but it often helps to work backwards from a simple idea—What do I need the beacons to do?
If you’re just starting the process of gathering information about setting up your own beacon deployment, don’t be intimidated by the surplus of information and technical details available. It may not seem so simple at the beginning, but taking it step by step and considering the basic elements of your own use case will help the hardware choices you have to make become much easier. Defining what you want your beacon network to do and understanding the factors that can influence how it functions will both help you select the right hardware and put you in a better position to manage the deployment once it goes live.
Your hardware choices are directly dependent on the requirements of your use case. It’s important to recognize that part of the reason there are so many choices when it comes to beacon hardware is the incredible number of applications for Bluetooth technology. Our goal here is to go over the most common factors that determine which hardware is best for which deployments and explain why one beacon is a better fit than another.
Before we dive in, though, let’s cover the difference between two terms that are sometimes confused. “Beacons” and “tags” are often used interchangeably, which is sometimes okay because they do the same thing. Other times, however, it’s important to distinguish between them because they fulfill their roles in different ways.
The difference is that beacons don’t move and tags do. That’s it. They’re both Bluetooth low energy devices and they both emit a signal that is picked up and interpreted by other devices and applications. The distinction comes down to HOW they’re used. Beacons are typically placed on a wall or ceiling and used for applications like wayfinding or customer experience-oriented purposes. They stay in one place and interact with people or things that move around them. Tags, on the other hand, have a different form factor designed to move with people, like a card or wristband. They move around and interact with a device that stays in one place. The technology is the same, but they’re used in different ways and the separate names help to clarify the situation when one device is more appropriate for a particular use case.
As mentioned already, different use cases call for different hardware. Here are some of the most common use cases for beacon deployments and the most important features you need to consider for each one
Remember that once you’ve selected the Bluetooth hardware for your project, you can always buy a dev kit (usually a couple of units) and run a POC to make sure it delivers on what was promised before you purchase bigger quantities. A perfect fit with your requirements on the technical specifications doesn’t automatically mean that the real-world deployment will meet your expectations. Pay particular attention to the performance of the features you’re especially interested in. Test signal stability and battery consumption. See if the hardware can live up to your expectations in a real-world environment before you heading for the full deployment.
If you would like to get into more of the specifics of how different types of beacons and tags are best suited for a variety of use cases and environments, you can read more in our new white paper, The Beacon Buyer’s Guide. It’s a great resource if you’re trying to decide what kind of beacon hardware to buy or just want to know more about the technology that makes them tick (even though beacons don’t tick…). Download it and learn everything from the basics of how beacons work to how different types are best for different jobs and everything in between. There’s also a handy chart showing which beacons in the Kontakt.io portfolio are best for different applications.