WiFi or Beacons for indoor location?

  • We weigh the pros and cons of WiFi & Beacon technology for location-based services, proximity marketing & location analytics

  • The benefits of installing Bluetooth® Beacons in your venue justifies their minimal cost

  • The most powerful solution is a combination of WiFi & Beacon technology for analytics and wayfinding.

Should I use WiFi or Beacons in my venue?

Should you install Bluetooth in your venue, especially if you already have WiFi installed?

The decision should be based on what your organization wants to accomplish. Are you looking for visitor engagement and location analytics in your venue?

If you’re looking to engage customers based on their location or to provide an indoor navigation experience, Bluetooth technology is clearly the best choice. With far greater location accuracy, your visitor will get the best possible in-venue experience.

Are you looking solely for location analytics? Combining WiFi and Bluetooth analytics is your best bet. WiFi Access Points (APs) collect data from customer devices creating invaluable insights on store visits for a large portion of visitors. Bluetooth technology adds an additional level of granularity, allowing you to see how single users interact with your venue and to measure the success of proximity messaging. 

Comparison: Wi-Fi vs Beacon technology

 

Bluetooth® Beacons

Wi-Fi

Is the location accurate?

+/-1m 

+/-10m 

Is it compatible with Android phones?

Yes

Yes

Is it compatible with iPhones? 

Yes

Yes, but iOS doesn’t support ranging for Wi-Fi. Without ranging, positioning is difficult and inaccurate. 

Does it drain battery on the user’s phone? 

Low energy consumption 

High energy consumption 

Does it work offline?

Positioning even when there is no data connection

WiFi can sometimes get overloaded if you have a lot of users connecting to a network

Is it costly to install? 

Inexpensive (~20x less than Wi-Fi)

Time consuming & expensive

Is maintenance required? 

Beacon replacement process after 2-4 years

Calibration process required & regular check ups 

Accuracy 

Bluetooth Beacons can give an accuracy of +/-1m. In retail for example, Bluetooth technology allows you to differentiate between a customer looking at suits and a customer looking at swimwear, which completely changes how you engage with them.

It is rare to get good accuracy out of WiFi due to the high power levels of WiFi signals and the distribution of WiFi access points. Even in the best cases the accuracy is unlikely to be better than +/-10m and is often closer to +/-15m. 

Android and iOS Compatibility

Android allows ranging for both WiFi and Bluetooth. However, iOS supports ranging for Bluetooth signals but not for WiFi. Without ranging, positioning is difficult and inaccurate. 

With Bluetooth, positioning on iOS is quick and easy - it takes less than a second to achieve accurate positioning. Positioning with WiFi on iOS requires a convoluted process. A clever access point needs to sniff signals, link this information with the device ID and process the information in the cloud, before sending it back to the device. This process gives poor accuracy and takes 10-30 seconds. Moreover, with iOS 8, Apple have started rotating the MAC address (like a device ID) randomly, which means you cannot track a device very far before it ‘transforms’ into a new device. 

Cost and Installation

Bluetooth devices are very cost-efficient and can be stuck to a wall or ceiling without any cabling requirements. WiFi Access Points require more setup: they need power and almost always need a data connection in order to do their job, along with significant backend infrastructure which administers user access and permissions. The cost of this equipment often mounts up, and brings with it a time consuming and expensive installation process. To enable indoor positioning with WiFi, extra Access Points often need to be installed to get near 10m accuracy. Bluetooth devices cost ~20x less than WiFi devices and there is a clear benefit in the installation process of Bluetooth technology, both in terms of time and cost.

Maintenance

With Bluetooth technology, the calibration process and maintenance can be avoided by adding a few extra beacons. However, maintenance is required after 2-4 years to change the beacons if they are battery powered. This can generate some cost, but will also tie in with the hardware upgrade process which will enable much more dynamic reaction to new technology in the future. 

When enabling indoor positioning with WiFi, a calibration process is required to ensure that WiFi signals have a good accuracy. This process needs repeating after any significant movement of equipment (especially metal and glass), in addition to the checkups required to ensure the routers are working as expected for internet access. 

Offline Access

Bluetooth enables positioning even when there is no data connection, so WiFi and phone signal are not required for features like navigation and messaging. With Bluetooth messaging it is even possible to get devices communicating with each other directly. Even without internet access, users can share their location and message each other, which is a hugely powerful way to enhance in-venue visitor experience.

WiFi can sometimes get overloaded if you have a lot of users connecting to a network, this often makes it unusable.

Could WiFi work alongside Bluetooth Beacons?

When technologies meet and work together they can become more powerful. Depending on your needs and objectives for indoor location solutions, you might decide to use a combination of Bluetooth and WiFi technology.

At Pointr, we help you get it right. We are a global technology leader in real-time location for smart venues. We are hardware agnostic, which means we are not biased towards a technology or another. We analyse your needs and we decide which technology makes sense for you. Contact us if you're keen to unlock the power of location for your venue.