Kontakt Cloud Beacon: Shipping Goodness

cloud-beacon

Kontakt.io is finally shipping its Cloud Beacon developer kits – and the little units pack a powerful punch.

Their Cloud Beacon is one of a suite of emerging technologies that support large-scale beacon deployments. They help overcome issues with security, monitoring, management and quality assurance and bring proximity technology to an industrial-scale/enterprise-grade level which may soon make them as ubiquitous as smoke detectors in some businesses.

What Cloud Beacon Solves

Some days it feels like we’ve been, well, plugging away at beacons for years. And yet the technology has only really started moving past pilots and tests in the past 6-12 months.

Even many of the large-scale deployments have been single beacon installations – chains of stores with a beacon at the front door triggering a push message or interaction when you arrive.

And one of the rate-limiting factors has been management, security and ‘data at scale’.

The approach of the beacon manufacturers has ranged from treating beacons as relatively disposable end points (they’re relatively cheap for the power they pack, so you can afford to deploy them, remove them, and then deploy more), to cloud-based solutions which use the end user’s phone to complete management tasks as a sort of hidden payload (for example, run a quick check of the beacon’s battery in the background of a user’s app).

For security, beacon companies have either randomized the ID numbers that beacons broadcast, provided on-site management tools which require a management app (and some staff), or encapsulated the beacon access in the app-side SDK.

In other words, there are lots of solutions to some of the most vexing challenges with beacons, especially if you plan to deploy them at scale:

  • Create enough randomization or security so that your beacons can’t be hijacked
  • Be able to change the UUIDs and broadcast information of your beacon (or use cloud-based services)  so that you can provide different access abilities to different apps at different times
  • Monitor the battery levels of your beacons so that they don’t go “dark”

Beacons Are An Internet End Point

The solution of Kontakt.io is to treat beacons as another Internet end point.

Their belief is that a beacon is just another ‘dumb transmitter’ if it’s simply sitting on a shelf broadcasting a signal. If your app is doing all the work of connecting to and managing the beacon, it’s one step removed from the Internet of Things.

By connecting beacons to a little mini hub, we start to unlock the first step in a larger series of values which come from being a node that’s directly connected to the Internet rather than through the proxy of an app or mobile device.

kontakt-cloud-beacon

What Cloud Beacon Does

Put a cloud beacon in your store or factory and it can “talk” to beacons within 200 meters. By being able to do so, it can:

  • Check their power levels
  • Update their firmware
  • Swap, change, rotate or update their broadcast packets (UUIDs, frequency, RSSI and other data)
  • Make sure they’re still online

The Cloud Beacon can do so because it has the capacity to couple with the beacons in its vicinity and then “call home” via WiFi. You can toggle the frequency with which it calls home and manage the cloud beacon itself much as you manage a beacon’s advertising intervals and settings to conserve power.

Packing additional punch, the Cloud Beacon also does passive WiFi monitoring to detect the presence of mobile devices in the vicinity. For data-conscious enterprise, this allows a more thorough data set of visitors – telling you, for example, that there were 1,000 visitors to your store and that 10% had a beacon-enabled app.

The Magic of Connected Spaces

But I think where Cloud Beacon, and other technologies like it, get their magic is that, first, they advance the ability of beacons to be deployed at scale. It isn’t always feasible to have staff checking your beacons across a chain of 1,000 stores, and holding that capacity within the payload of a user or administrative app has its drawbacks.

But Cloud Beacon represents the larger move to an Internet of Things in which relatively dumb and simple devices are nodes in a larger web of connected devices.

As beacons evolve to include mesh capabilities, to carry more data, to connect with more things, the concept of connected spaces won’t be enabled by single devices but by a cloud of services and gizmos each serving a purpose within the larger task of making the physical world a digital interface.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Have you received your Cloud Beacon developer kit yet? What do you think? What other solutions do you think are rising to the top for fleet management and beacon deployments?

9 Responses to “Kontakt Cloud Beacon: Shipping Goodness”

  1. I agree this is a really smart solution, that is very feature rich. However it also causes a huge obstacle to the rapid deployment of beacon technology. There is a single reason why retailers are all of a sudden very happy to roll-out beacons in their stores on a massive scale, where other technologies such as public WiFi have taken decades to reach a mass of public locations: ease of deployment.

    As soon as you require a beacon to do either of two things the difficulty, reliability, complexity and cost of deploying beacons goes up by a factor of 10:
    – require power, or;
    – require connectivity

    In my experience (years in the public Wifi game) you can assume that a reasonable percentage of non-critical (read non-payment related) DSL lines in retailers are down, and have a fix time of days or weeks. You also very quickly run into the units that have power failing every day at 5am (thats when the cleaner unplugs them to plug the vacuum in). Also the failure rate increases significantly.

    This moves beacons from a quick and easy marketing initiative into the realms of a complex IT project. I’m not saying thats wrong, but don’t expect beacons that need power or connectivity to be rolled out at any scale quickly – especially when a simple offline unit can give many of the same benefits with the app and consumers handset/data doing the heavy lifting.

    I’m a fan of the solution – but as ever its horses for courses.

    Reply
  2. Matthew Pavy

    Great article!!! Very exciting to see whys coming next. Thanks for keeping us informed. Be the beacon!!

    Reply
  3. Matthew Pavy

    Great article!!! Very exciting to see what is coming next. Thanks for keeping us informed. Be the beacon!!

    Reply
  4. Great post Doug. It is interesting how beacons have evolved over the months to simplify the lives of brands running beacon trials. For example like you said, the approach of the beacon manufacturers has ranged from treating beacons as relatively disposable end points to cloud-based solutions which use the end user’s phone to complete management tasks as a sort of hidden payload. Great to know that there are a number of solutions to some of the most vexing challenges faced with beacons ( especially when brands deploy them at scale). Another important thing to note is that, with more than $138M expected to flow into retail via beacons this year, it is critical that retailers experiment with new beacon UX in their efforts to convert occasional consumers or shoppers to year-round loyal consumers.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for this great article.

    I was really excited about the Cloud Beacons, but I am wondering how the Cloud Beacon can “talk” to the other Beacons in a range of 200m?

    I suppose that Cloud Beacon talk to the other Beacons in Bluetooth Low Energy, not in WIFI. This means that the range would be 70m, not 200m. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Reply
  6. Yulin Sun

    I agree with “Mahieddine Bouzidi”. It is almost impossible for wifi device to connect to a Beacon in 200 meter. The Kontakt Beacon claim range is 60 meter, which is maximum broadcast package range. The bluetooth connection minimal range should be less than 30 meter and normal range is less than 10 meter. In order to increase connection success rate, the Beacon’s broadcast interval should be very low for example 100 ms. It in turn decreases the battery life.

    Reply

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