BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE, and marketed as Bluetooth Smart).
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a form of wireless communication designed especially for short-range communication. BLE is very similar to Wi-Fi in the sense that it allows devices to communicate with each other. However, BLE is meant for situations where battery life is preferred over high data transfer speeds. For example, say you want to broadcast a marketing campaign close to a newly launched headphone. The amount of data you need to transfer to a visitor’s smartphone is minimal; hence Bluetooth LE compatible beacons do the job quickly without draining the battery.
Today, most smartphones and tablets are BLE compatible, which means they can seamlessly communicate with Bluetooth-enabled wireless headphones, digital signage, car stereos, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and hardware devices like beacons.
How does BLE technology work?
BLE data transfer is essentially one-way communication. Let’s take an example of BLE beacons trying to communicate with a smartphone nearby – a Bluetooth beacon device broadcasts packets of data at regular intervals. These data packets are detected by app/pre-installed services on smartphones nearby. This BLE communication triggers actions such as pushing a message or promoting an app.
To save energy and provide higher data transfer speed, the entire Bluetooth BLE communication framework consists of 40 frequency channels, separated by 2MHz. 3 of these channels are the primary advertisement channels, while the remaining 37 channels are secondary, known as data channels. The Bluetooth communication starts with the 3 primary advertisement channels and then offloads to the secondary channels.
What devices support Bluetooth Low Energy? Which Android phones support BLE?
Most smartphones and tablets built since 2012 support low-energy Bluetooth (BLE). However, since Android phones vary widely, some models might support BLE, while others support an older version of Bluetooth. The table below summarizes which iOS devices have BLE.
Models with BLE support
iPhone 4 and newer
iPad 3rd generation and newer
iPad mini and newer
iPod touch 5th generation and newer
Android phones and tablets
All Android phones with Android 4.3 and newer
Bluetooth classic vs Bluetooth Low Energy
What is Bluetooth? How is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) different?
There are two major technologies within the Bluetooth core specification – Bluetooth classic and Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth Low Energy). The major difference between the two beacon technology lies in the power consumption in each case. However, there are other factors why Bluetooth Smart is being pulled in for interesting technology applications.
1. Power consumption
This is what makes BLE so special! Businesses can use just four batteries to power BLE beacon devices for several months or years. However, for classic Bluetooth, given higher data throughput, its power consumption can be really high.
Classic Bluetooth is great for applications that require continuous streaming of data, for example, headphones. However, Bluetooth LE is suited for applications that work well with a periodic transfer of data and reduce a significant amount of battery usage. This makes BLE suitable for IoT and proximity marketing-related applications.
3. Simultaneous connections
BLE or Bluetooth low energy can establish up to 20 connections simultaneously. It supports more simultaneous connections because it transfers small data packets and establishes quick connections. Classic Bluetooth, on the other hand, can initiate only 7 simultaneous connections.
Here’s a table to compare the capabilities of classic Bluetooth vs Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
Data Transfer Rate
Time to send data
Less than 15mA
Applications suited for
Use-cases that need continuous streaming of data, such as headphones
Use-cases that do not require continuous streaming of data, such as proximity marketing campaigns.
What is virtual BLE?
Instead of a physical beacon that needs to be deployed, virtual BLE is simply a beacon point that is added to existing Wi-Fi networks. The BLE broadcast functionality achieved through a BLE antenna is added to a Wi-Fi access point. This eliminates the need for beacons and batteries. Such virtual BLE networks can be leveraged for indoor navigation.
BLE Technology and BLE Beacons
What is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon?
BLE beacons, as the name suggests, are beacons that communicate via Bluetooth Low Energy. Beacon devices are small radio transmitters, strategically mounted throughout locations, to broadcast low-energy Bluetooth signals in a given range. This range depends on hardware capability. On average, a beacon device can transmit BLE signals to 80 meters. This BLE signal from the beacon is capable of triggering a specific action relevant to the location.
Beacons send out an ID number via BLE channels, approximately 10 times every second. A Bluetooth-enabled device in proximity of the beacon picks up this ID number. When an app or pre-installed service like Google Nearby recognizes the ID number, it links it to an action, such as download an app or piece of content (maybe a marketing offer) stored on the cloud and displays it on the smartphone.
Bluetooth low energy use cases
1. Proximity marketing
Shoppers hate promotional messages which are out-of-context. Therefore, businesses have to get smarter with their marketing campaigns. These campaigns have to be extremely personalized and relevant. This not just boosts the sales but also increases brand loyalty. Companies like Macy’s, McDonald’s, Walmart, and Lord & Taylor are making their campaigns extremely relevant, thus useful, for their visitors.
BLE-driven check-ins unlike Facebook or Foursquare, are highly targeted and enable visitors to point out accurately where they are in the facility. This feature could be used in conjunction with specific location-based promotions or reward-based games, like a scavenger hunt.
3. Retargeting Ads
BLE beacon solutions, like Beaconstac, empower businesses to reach out to visitors even after they check out of the store/property. Once a visitor engages with any in-store campaign, they are exposed to the same brand when they go online – Facebook or Google. (How to set up a Facebook retargeting ads using BLE beacon)
4. Asset tracking
This is another popular Bluetooth LE beacon use case. Instead of broadcasting IDs to mobile devices, the BLE beacon “listens” for the unique IDs of BLE tags attached to objects. Because these tags can be equipped with sensors—for things such as light, sound, movement and temperature—the applications are many, from the tracking of wheelchairs and infusion pumps in hospitals to monitor the movement, speed and vibration of an airport baggage conveyor.
5. Indoor navigation
GPS works great for outdoors – but we have all seen GPS solutions go crazy indoors. BLE infrastructure works great indoors and outdoors! A combination of three indoor beacons is sufficient to find the accurate position of a smartphone. Indoor navigation using beacon technology offers turn-by-turn directions, marks the important venues and indicates the recommended route. This is especially helpful for multi-story stores, shopping malls and museums.
Virtual BLE negates the need to have a physical beacon in this particular use case. By latching onto existing Wi-Fi networks, beacon points are able to create a range that resembles a beam of a flashlight. More energy is pushed in front of the beacon antenna compared to the sides. This energy forms a power distribution resembling an ellipse.
The location of a user is determined by assigning a probability weight to each point in the map. After calculating the expected signal strength and the measured signal strength, the location of the device (user) is determined with great accuracy.
BLE beacon implementation across verticals
BLE entered the market when Microsoft announced its experimentation with BLE and facial recognition. These efforts were in the context of minimal-effort mPayments. Followed by Microsoft, many other proponents touted BLE as a viable replacement to NFC. BLE beacons, however, made some incredible progress in other applications as well – attracting visitors and enhancing the customer experience across verticals. Let’s take a look at some of these BLE beacon use cases.
#1 BLE enabled retail experience
The primary focus of retailers has always been to attract more shoppers to their venues/stores. However, in the last few years, physical stores have evolved to bring forth much more for their visitors. The needle has significantly moved towards simplifying the payment process and offering an engaging and immersive shopping experience.
The entire retail experience is transformed using BLE
Pretailing: BLE beacons present strong business propositions (offers/listings) at the right time and right place to engage with the customers. Pretailing includes attracting more shoppers through location-based push marketing, relevant in-store offers to drive purchase decisions, shopper assistance and working on tracking customer analytics to make better business decisions.
Payments: Even though beacons have witnessed tremendous growth in the advertisement and customer engagement space, their contactless payment applications are powerful. Retailers need low-powered Bluetooth-enabled POS machines to drive contactless payments.
Post-purchase: After the first transaction is made, a retailer’s core focus is to get the consumer back. From broadcasting loyalty offers to retargeting consumers when they go online, beacons can be of great help!
#2 BLE beacon in real estate
Real estate is one of those verticals where businesses have recently picked great interest in using BLE beacon technology to boost their customers’ experience. Realtors are leveraging beacons to spread awareness about open house events, capture leads by broadcasting information about available properties, and, most importantly, distribute digital business cards.
For attracting buyers,
Mounting beacons on sale signs and lawn signs to give detailed information of the property
2. Broadcasting a list of available properties
For capturing leads,
Sending digital business cards
2. Enabling online booking for property visits
3. Sending a property quote in return of personal details
For in-property engagement,
Virtual home tours
2. Sharing the property highlights and in-home options
3. Informing about amenities and neighbourhood
#3 BLE beacons at events and stadiums
Proximity-aware event apps are found to be 235% more engaging than standard mobile apps at events. And given that, the beacon technology today does not require apps for broadcasting notification on Android, this engagement is much higher
(UPDATE: Please read our blog post on how to transition from Nearby to NearBee). Event marketers are enhancing visitor engagement by leveraging beacons for gamification, frictionless registration, improved networking, auto check-ins, and indoor navigation.
However, when you’re in crowded spaces, there are several security risks. Potential hackers can easily use techniques such as Bluejacking and Bluebugging to take control of your device. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to prevent all that without losing any functionality i.e. using a secure VPN connection. It’ll simply change your IP address, and even though you’ll be at a particular place using your Bluetooth functions, your devices won’t be traceable to the
Other verticals making the best use of BLE beacons are hospitals, museums, airports, tourism and public venues, like amusement parks and train stations.
I am fascinated by tech-driven marketing. Love to read & write about entrepreneurship and tech-driven business strategies for B2B and B2C companies. Have b(e)acon and eggs for breakfast and always up for doughnuts!
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