Apple is influential in the IT industry in many ways, some of them not so obvious.
One of them is a change it made a year ago to its iOS operating system to favour Bluetooth-powered beacons instead of Wi-Fi access points for reasons of privacy and battery power.
The move has “thrown the whole industry for a loop,” says Jeff Hardison, a director of product marketing at AP manufacturer Aruba Networks. But rather than fight it, Aruba has decided to embrace it.
Today it announced two upcoming Aruba Beacons, one that can plug into any of three Aruba Wi-Fi access points for power and another that is battery-powered, and proclaimed this is the future of wireless. Among the advantages, Hardison said, is that beacons give better location –based data to smart phones than Wi-Fi because they refresh faster. That means more reliable mapping, he said, and a better ability for retailers to send marketing text messages to nearby smart phone owners.
“Beacons blow away Wi-Fi in terms of the accuracy and experience for a phone,” he said.
In addition, he said, Aruba Beacons plugged into its APs can be identified and remotely managed through Aruba’s management console.
Two major and unnamed competitors, he added, are still sticking to Wi-Fi. Aruba is the first major wireless networking equipment maker to embrace beacons, he said. Others – except Qualcomm spinoff Gimbal Inc., he admitted – are startups.
Perhaps not for long. Forrester Research notes that a number of retail organizations are testing beacons, which use the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. It’s still early days, with use cases that create engagement that will better serve customers than existing solutions, an analyst wrote.
Aruba thinks it has a package with its beacons and its Meridian mobile software development platform. Meridian, which Aruba bought about 18 months ago, allows organizations to capture location data, upload it to the Meridian cloud for processing and from there send messages, texts, coupons to smart phones.
To meet privacy concerns, the Aruba solution requires the approval of smart phone users before activation, and it doesn’t capture or retain customer information.
Aruba has been testing the beacons at a new Wi-Fi network installation at Levi Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL. where the combined network handles some 3.3 TB of data.
Beacons are an extra device IT has to buy. But, Hardison said, they are ” a fraction of the cost” of an AP. Exact pricing won’t be released until early next year when Aruba puts them on sale. Aruba Beacons with USBs don’t have to be plugged into an Aruba access port — any powered USB port will do, although it won’t connect to the management software. The battery-powered Aruba Beacon will last about five years.