Motorola unveils iBeacon-based indoor positioning technology

Motorola unveils indoor positioning technology using Bluetooth beacons retail businesses to reach customers, with or without guest Wi-Fi networks.

Motorola Solutions' new indoor positioning platform, MPact, combines Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low-energy technology to allow retailers to push location-based marketing to their customers, regardless of whether they join a guest Wi-Fi network.

Many networking vendors -- including Cisco and Aruba -- have offered location-based technology services tied to wireless LAN access points. MPact compliments Motorola's own location-based Wi-Fi services on its Secure Access cloud-based platform, but it also uses iBeacon, an inexpensive Bluetooth-based indoor positioning technology, to push information out to consumers whose mobile devices aren't on the store's Wi-Fi network.

"Retail businesses need to be able to connect with end customers who may or may not be using the [guest] Wi-Fi," said Gary Singh, WLAN product marketing manager for Motorola. "Wi-Fi [is] good for presence-based offerings, but when it comes down to micro-locationing, Wi-Fi could be a very expensive offering, and the granularity is very hard to achieve -- a consumer might be on the other side of the aisle with Wi-Fi-based location services, versus where the actual marketing needs to take place."

Location-based services, with or without joining the Wi-Fi network

MPact will push special offers and personal assistance to customers who have downloaded a store's mobile app designed to work with a device's Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) capability. The platform can help consumers locate products throughout a store, read reviews and compare prices.

"A lot of different things, from a marketing standpoint, are possible -- when a consumer is standing in front of a certain product, the beacon can push more information about the product to the customer on their mobile device, or it can alert them to promotions going on within the store when they walk in," Singh said.

The BLE beacons on which the indoor locationing software will run are more cost-effective -- about $30 per beacon -- than the number of wireless LAN access points needed to support location-based Wi-Fi service. The beacons also work well under difficult radio frequency conditions, and they can establish a customer's location within four feet of accuracy, the company said. MPact can also work in conjunction with Motorola's existing location-based Wi-Fi service, Sigh said. "The unified offering is not mutually exclusive; they can be used at the same time, or one at a time, depending on how the business wants to use [MPact]," he said.  

Even though they won't have to join the guest Wi-Fi to take advantage of the service, consumers still must opt-in by using the specific store's loyalty app, he said. "In terms of privacy, the locationing platform isn't tracking anyone, it's providing information to devices depending on the device's proximity to a beacon," he said.

Unlike an intelligent Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth beacons are similar to thin clients -- the equipment can only sense the proximity of another compatible device or operating system within a certain range, allowing the beacon to communicate with the device. "Wi-Fi can locate and track [users] in real time; iBeacon technology can't do that," said Craig Mathias, principal at the Ashland, Mass.-based advisory firm Farpoint Group.

More on indoor positioning technologies

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Privacy concerns for location-based apps

Location-based services for keeping tabs

Motorola has also teamed up with several content software providers to help round out its MPact offering, Singh said. Swirl, an iBeacon mobile marketing platform, can work with MPact's location engine to provide content software. Aisle411 and Phunware's software provides in-store navigation and mapping, and Digby's location-based marketing and location analytics platform can help encourage customers to enter the store using geo-fencing technology.

iBeacon technology gives consumers complete control over the shopping experience, as well as the engagement with the business because information being pushed out through Bluetooth can be easily allowed or declined by the end user, said Jeffrey Roster, research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "Unlike spamming [customers] with emails, retail stores will now be able to interact with their customers when they are looking for something inside their stores."

The future of indoor positioning services and end-user experience

Beyond in-store mobile marketing, location-based Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services will be a good fit for any business that continuously communicates with consumers or end customers -- like hospitals, museums, and transportation hubs, Roster said.

"Any place in which consumers have to regularly interact with information could benefit down the road -- once the technology is matured and retail works though some of the early issues," he said.

And while location-based Wi-Fi services are still fairly new to many businesses, Bluetooth-based offerings are just beginning, Roster said. "The ecosystem is going to build up around this capability and we are going to see a quick uptake with beacon-based technology, because it does everything right -- if activated and allowed by a customer, it puts the right information directly in front of them when they need it. We've never had that capability before," he said.  

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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