Wi-Fi vs Bluetooth Low Energy (iBeacon) Technology
Last Updated:  May 31, 2018
Indoor location technology has created a lot of buzz by opening up a realm of opportunities for businesses and consumers to communicate with each other and with things around them. A year back, retailers were busy trying to leverage Wi-Fi to gain insights on consumer behaviour in great detail. The recent widespread adoption of iBeacon technology across verticals such as malls, museums and events have now got marketers wondering on the best way to leverage this new proximity-detection technology to engage their consumers better.
If you too are looking to gain insights on how to plan a beacon pilot roadmap or how to plan your pilot budget, you might be interested in checking out our recent webinar on ‘Your Guide to Planning a Successful Beacon Pilot’. It will set you up for success.
However, with iBeacon and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) being a relatively new technology, most marketers often have trouble trying to differentiate it from Wi-Fi. In this post, we will point out the basic differences between these two technologies and how they fit in together.
1. Consumer Privacy:
In the case of Wi-Fi tracking, mobile devices of consumers who have turned on their Wi-Fi will be on the constant look out for Wi-Fi networks. This is then used by retailers to detect the presence of consumers and to track their physical movements along aisles with unprecedented detail. Pervasive Wi-Fi technology does not explicitly ask consumers for their permission, as it does not require any user intervention. However, the only way out for customer, is to completely disable Wi-Fi on their mobile device.
On the other hand, for beacons to track a consumer, he or she has to turn on his or her mobile phone’s Bluetooth, allow location detection through the relevant app and opt-in to receive in-store or indoor notifications. While Wi-Fi technology could help businesses track more consumers, as it does not require them to install an app, it is best to choose a technology that gives consumers total control over the data they are giving businesses access to.
2. Proximity detection:
Wi-Fi is technically designed to accurately point to a device’s exact location with wireless access points, by measuring parameters such as MAC address and SSID. Beacons, on the other hand are all about proximity, and not about exact location. These proximity detection devices are designed to detect mobile devices when they are within the specified range of the beacon, provided they have the corresponding app installed in them. And while the proximity data provided by beacons are sure to be more accurate than Wi-Fi, they are not accurate values either. However, this does not matter in most applications.
For example, if you just want to track when a consumer is next to the Kitchen Appliances section in the store, beacons work perfectly well. If you are leveraging beacons to navigate your consumers or visitors around the venue, you may not need as many touch points as required in the case of helping them locate a product within the store.
3. Deployment costs
Both Wi-Fi and beacon deployment requires marketers to plan ahead on where the devices will be placed and to configure their positions in the software driving them. However, to get Wi-Fi working, you will also need to configure and connect routers to a power source. While the cost of a router generally varies depending on the manufacturer, getting a high-traffic router can be quite expensive.
Beacons, on the other hand, are available at as low as $25 per unit. And if you buy a USB powered beacon, or one that runs on electromagnetic waves, rather than a battery powered one, you can avoid having to go through all the maintenance headache of changing their batteries regularly.
Going ahead, once you deploy beacons in large numbers across the country or across multiple stores or branches remote beacon management will become highly important. For these proximity-detection devices to be managed with ease, beacons should have some sort of network access while empowering brands the ability to detect each beacon, and turn it on or off via the backend. This is one of the main reasons why brands are considering using beacon platforms while deploying beacons on a large scale.
Which one do I use? Wi-Fi or beacons or both?
Now that you have read through the basic differences between these technologies, the next question that pops up is, ‘Which one do I use? Wi-Fi or beacons or both?’. The decision should be based on what your company or brand wants to accomplish using them. For example, if you are just looking for employee connectivity or location based analytics, you can go ahead with a location-enabled Wi-Fi infrastructure. On the other hand, if you are looking to engage consumers based on their location within the venue or provide an indoor navigation experience, then you might want to consider beacons.
In fact, inspite of the differences between the two technologies, they work best when used together. For example, at instances where you want to be highly certain of the location of the consumer within a venue, you can use beacons to handle those proximity-based interactions. Meanwhile, you can leverage Wi-Fi network to provide engaging navigational experiences within the venue and collect analytics based on those consumer movements.
If you are planning a beacon pilot, take a look at Beaconstac, that includes everything you need to get started. Using Beaconstac you can set up your own campaign, without a developer’s help!