Smart: Beacons and IoT for home, work, play


By Martin Woolley, technical programme manager, Bluetooth SIG

There is much speculation about what the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) holds for businesses and consumers. Consumers in particular have a Jetsons-style image in their heads of a future where devices, systems and tools talk to and interact with each other in ways we can’t quite imagine today. This futuristic pipe dream is slowly turning into reality however; wearables track fitness levels, smart thermostats control building temperature, and connected health devices help with outpatient care. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is expected that by 2021 there will be upwards of 24 billion smart devices active globally [BI Intelligence 2016]. As such, the potential for the IoT to grow and connect over the coming years is phenomenal, and we need to start talking about what’s practical, and what we know can, and will, happen.

The launch of new standards, such as Bluetooth 5, will fundamentally change how the ‘things’ of the IoT will work together, as well as which technologies can be used within it, such as beacons. It is expected that there will be roughly 565 million beacons shipped in 2021 alone, making them the third largest market for Bluetooth developers [ Market Data for Bluetooth, ABI Research, 2016].

Small devices with big potential, beacons have practical applications at work, home and while out and about, making us ‘smarter’ in all aspects of our lives. They are low cost, low power transmitters that broadcast data to nearby portable devices. They’ve already been used in retailing and payment systems with great success, and research from ABI suggests the beacon market will continue to grow at a rate of 133% over the next five years.

Combined with Bluetooth 5, beacons represent vast opportunities to grow our smart homes and cities. They allow greater connectivity possibilities for developers, who can now be more ambitious and adventurous with the technology they choose to build Bluetooth into.

Beacons in the home

The mission of the smart home is to use wireless connectivity to make user experiences more enjoyable, financially rewarding, and safe, and developers have been working with Bluetooth technology to harness the power of IoT to deliver this. With Bluetooth a series of beacons can be placed in a home, joining traditionally paired devices to activate the lights, heating and even the stereo when the owner arrives at the front door.

As consumers, we’re always on the lookout for new technology and gadgets to improve the way we live and work, and automation is becoming increasingly popular with the help of IoT. And as smart devices continue to gain prominence, we will see more and more homes responding to their occupants with a scale of intuition that has never been seen before.

That ‘intuition’ is what developers have been chasing for years. With smart technology ranging from smart thermostats and lighting systems, to intelligent smoke alarms and security installations, they have succeeded to some extent. But they want to do more, making things better connected, across a wider distance and with greater efficiency.

There are many examples of beacons in use outside the home too. Broadcasting a code to identify a place of interest, beacons can benefit tourist boards by automatically providing this information to a tourist’s smartphone, based on their location. Government bodies can also use beacons in this way to identify a specific location, such as a hospital or particularly busy road, and provide up to date information on waiting times and traffic levels to an associated application on a smartphone. Universities can also adopt similar beacon applications, using them to automatically register attendance at lectures.

We may not be jumping into our Jetsons-style spaceships in the immediate future, but with the support of Bluetooth beacons, and the right connectivity holding the IoT ecosystem together, the future looks promising for the technological advancement of the smart home, city and workplace.

The Bluetooth SIG is a global community of over 30,000 companies serving to unify, harmonise and drive innovation in the vast range of connected devices all around us. 


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