The benefits of integrated access point beacon technology

Plan for the future with integrated Bluetooth

Cisco Meraki customers can easily future proof their networks for the needs of their business with the new Meraki MR32 and MR72 802.11ac access points (AP) that include built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology. These APs can be integrated seamlessly into any standard WLAN deployment, while giving customers a BLE beacon-enabled network, ready for the future. We see this being especially important in retail where iBeacons and other customer Bluetooth engagement technologies are rapidly growing in adoption.

What are BLE Beacons?

BLE is a recent enhancement to the Bluetooth standard which allows for the wireless protocol to be applied to new use cases which were previously not feasible. This is primarily due to the energy saving techniques implemented in BLE which reduce power consumption when compared to previous Bluetooth standards.

With the ability to efficiently utilize limited power sources, BLE is now used in a number of devices which need to communicate small amounts of data over wireless. It is now possible to have devices with battery life measured in months and years rather than days or weeks, while also making them smaller.

This has led to the development of beacon technology and its application in a number of situations. Beacons are very simple BLE messages which are transmitted or heard by BLE compatible devices. This device could be a computer, a phone, a wireless AP, or a tag, to name just a few possible devices.

This message has three basic components:

  • Universally Unique Identifier (UUID)
  • Major
  • Minor

These components of the beacon can be configured with information the operator wants to communicate to other BLE-compatible devices. Typically this is in a non-human friendly form but it can be interpreted by a listening device. For example, in a retail environment it could be interpreted as:

  • Retail Brand (UUID)
  • Shop Location (Major)
  • Product Category (Minor)

When a BLE-compatible device hears one of these messages, a user-installed app which is beacon aware can interpret the information in the UUID, Major, and Minor identifiers. This could be used to trigger functionality in that app, for example it could display information relevant to a particular product in that shop, a discount to be redeemed at purchase, or a customer service interaction.

Is it worth using BLE Beacons?

BLE beacons are a simple way to provide mobile apps with location awareness that is specific to your organization. The low energy features of BLE beacons allow mobile devices to use this functionality with minimal impact on battery life. The benefit of this is that apps can enable bluetooth on devices with little negative side effects and a positive experience to end users.

The downside for organizations wishing to implement BLE beacon devices is the scale at which they could be deployed creates a significant administrative burden. With a thousand, or ten thousand of these devices, even a year long battery life would lead to a large number being replaced every week.

It also means that when it comes to configuration, it can require extensive pre-staging and visits to site. Should this need to be updated in the future to meet new business needs, the costs of doing this may outweigh the benefits of making the change.

Meraki has solved the physical and configuration challenges of implementing beacon technology by integrating it into the new MR32 and MR72 APs. These APs have fully integrated BLE radio chipsets that works in parallel to the three WLAN radios that are inside.

BLE and beacon compatible Meraki MR32 and MR72 APs

Hear from Adam Weiss, one of the Meraki engineers responsible for the development of the BLE functionality in the APs, on the possible uses cases of this technology and the importance of an integrated solution.

By integrating the BLE technology into the PoE compatible MR32 and MR72 APs, the problems associated with maintaining a widely distributed inventory of battery powered beacons is completely eliminated.

The unique cloud-managed architecture of the Meraki MR32 and MR72 means that they can be remotely deployed and configured for zero-touch deployments. The APs can broadcast BLE Beacons with a configured UUID, Major, and Minor that is only set once for a whole network of APs. If these identifiers need to be updated, it can be done quickly and remotely through the Meraki dashboard for all APs, all sites, or even different countries.

The rapid software development cycle of the Meraki cloud management solution means that as and when new BLE Beacon features are needed, these can be delivered seamlessly at no cost to existing deployments. This ensures your investment in APs can provide the greatest value for the longest period of time.