WiFi Analytics in Retail: Bluetooth Location Tracking

23rd Feb 2017

WiFi has been around in its most basic form since the early 90s and has progressed quickly from a relatively short range, low throughput technology into today’s high throughput, with much improved range solutions and development continues at pace.

Location, Location, Location

The concept of radio location, or the tracking of objects via radio, has been in existence for a much longer period i.e. since the 1940s, and was first applied to a wireless network in the late 90s/early 2000s. This used the signal strengths received from multiple APs to locate a wireless client device.  The accuracy of these earlier systems was quite poor and very dependent upon the layout of the building and the siting and quantities of the reporting APs.

Fast forward to today and the basic accuracy has improved by use of both strength and time of arrival of received client signals. However, it can still be difficult to place a client precisely within a particular supermarket aisle, for instance, without a carefully laid out matrix of reporting APs.

Be warned: this then requires the deployment of more APs to support “locationing” than would really be required to provide good levels of throughput and connectivity.

Humble Bluetooth

Enter the humble Bluetooth radio or more accurately the much more recently introduced BLE or Bluetooth Low Energy equipment.

Traditionally, Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi have not been happy bedfellows as both used the same band of frequencies at 2.4GHz in different ways, with Wi-Fi seeing Bluetooth devices as interfering radio sources.

Bluetooth was and is still used to transfer data from one device to another, such as photos from one mobile phone to another or to implement the link between a mobile device and a printer for instance. BLE is very different in that most of the time it is dormant and can be powered by a simple coin-cell type battery for several years.

How does this help us with locating a mobile device? Well, because BLE is a low power technology, the radio range of such a device can be quite short - hence a mobile wireless client, such as a smartphone, receiving the BLE signal will by definition be quite close physically to the BLE radio.  This then gives the potential for much more accurate location reporting of mobile wireless clients.

Light the beacons!

A typical scenario would be to populate a retail store or mall with BLE “beacons” sited at strategic locations within the store or shopping mall. The locations of these beacons are then recorded on a central data base. When the target mobile device (smartphone) receives a particular BLE beacon signal, the app. on the smartphone looks up the BLE beacon ID on the central database thus the mobile devices location becomes known.

The smartphone app. can then use this information to guide the user to a specific destination within the mall or could send a message to the users device designed to entice them into a particular store with for example some sort of promotional offer.

A wireless retail revolution

As the majority of people tend to walk around with WiFi enabled, the devices are tracked on two levels; by the reception of client device data packets received by the WiFi infrastructure, and by reception of BLE beacon data by the on-board app. This information allows the WiFi system operator to build a picture of the routes that users typically take through the shopping mall, places/stores they visit, where they dwell for any length of time, and conversely it’s possible to show areas where they do not visit.

In this sense, WiFi analytics can offer bricks-and-mortar retailers the same in-depth, data-driven, customer view that has helped online retailers to become so successful in their continuous improvement of consumer experiences.  

WiFi analytics is fast-becoming a powerful tool in terms of learning how people move through a retail space and providing the data as to how to redesign that space to make it more relevant to visitors, for instance using all of the area effectively and to increase dwell time.

Our WiFi Analytics partners

Ensign work closely with a number WiFi Analytics and location-based services platforms such as Encapto, Skyfii and Purple WiFi.

To talk to one of our techies about WiFi analytics today by calling us on 01929 556 553 or Contacting Us here

What Next?

If you are planning to deploy an enterprise-grade wireless network or are experiencing problems with a existing setup, please feel free to contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.