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Converging Bluetooth and IoT to Expand Wi-Fi Business Value

In the Internet era, traditional in-store way of shopping is changing as more and more consumers choose to shop online, presenting challenges to traditional business models. Merchants have to rack their brains to boost offline consumption. For example, they intensify product promotion in stores or extend offline marketing outreach efforts. However, these measures go largely unnoticed by target customers. Merchants must seek new, more effective methods. With its low cost, Wi-Fi is gaining popularity in the business world. Free Wi-Fi is now the norm in shopping malls, and improving business through Wi-Fi use becomes a cost-effective option.

Wi-Fi Location Accuracy Directly Determines Business Application Effect

The business system matches AP locations on Wi-Fi networks with store information in maps. When customers access Wi-Fi networks, the business system:

  • Collects data such as login time, venues, and logout time.
  • Obtains the stay duration data based on online periods.
  • Maps flow lines according to motion paths.
  • Calculates flow density based on access number in each area.

After the business system analyzes the data, it pushes tailored coupons or ads to customers, thereby achieving precision marketing. During this process, all data analysis is based on customer access locations, which are obtained through the use of Wi-Fi. Therefore, Wi-Fi location accuracy directly affects how well business applications can be used and promoted.

Trade-off between Network Service Quality and Location Accuracy?

Wi-Fi location works by using APs to:

  • Periodically collect mobile phone signal strength.
  • Calculate the distance to terminals through three or more separate pieces of signal strength data.
  • Determine access locations according to the triangular location algorithm.

More AP deployment means higher location accuracy. However, terminal signal strength easily changes in environments with interference. For example, signal blocking from body movement and signal refraction from bumping into walls both affect reliability of signal strength data collected by APs, affecting location accuracy.

Currently, Wi-Fi location solutions from mainstream suppliers achieves location accuracy between 3 m and 5 m. Accuracy in most suppliers’ solutions only reaches 5 m to 8 m, or sometimes 10 m. Although location accuracy can be improved by optimizing the location algorithm, increasing signal collection frequency (for higher signal strength stability and reliability), and increasing AP deployment density, these measures will not result in significant changes because:

  • Optimizing the location algorithm is technically challenging. Many small manufacturers have limited technology, preventing them from making breakthroughs in this area.
  • If an AP collects terminal signals more frequently, its performance is more greatly affected. As terminals to be located increase, network performance also decreases exponentially.
  • Adding APs improves the deployment density but it increases the cost as well. When the AP density increases, interference between APs also increases, which significantly deteriorates network performance.

Figure 1. Wi-Fi Location

Yes! Bluetooth Location Compensates for the Weaknesses

Instead of constantly making efforts to improve Wi-Fi location accuracy, merchants might as well find other easier, more reliable methods. Early on, Bluetooth was overlooked due to its short transmission distance, poor penetration capability, and low bandwidth, but has now been endowed with a new value in customer location with the introduction of Beacon. Compared with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth is energy-saving, compact, and cost-effective. Such advantages allow its location accuracy to reach between 1 m and 3 m, and at times even shorter than 1 m.

Bluetooth locates customers as follows:

  • Bluetooth Beacons periodically broadcast information.
  • Upon receipt of the information, mobile phone App calculates the distance to corresponding Beacon station according to signal strength.
  • The App uses the triangular location algorithm to calculate mobile phone locations.

Indeed, Bluetooth location and Wi-Fi location both use signal strength to calculate distance between APs and terminals or between Beacon stations and terminals, and use the triangular location algorithm to determine access locations. However, Bluetooth Beacons outperform Wi-Fi in that they are:

  • Energy-saving, with built-in batteries with service lives over 1 year.
  • Easy to install, without the need to consider power supply issues during deployment.
  • Cost-effective, meeting the cost control requirements of mass deployment.

As such, Beacons can be deployed more densely than APs, which indicates improved location accuracy.

In addition, Bluetooth location provides more stable signal strength than Wi-Fi location. During Bluetooth location, Beacons periodically broadcast information, allowing moving mobile phones to receive constant and stable signals. In contrast, during Wi-Fi location, signal strengths collected by APs are largely dependent on data transmission between these APs and mobile phones. If there is no data transmission, the collected signal strengths are often not continuous and stable.

In commercial Wi-Fi environments, Bluetooth location improves usage effect of business applications. In addition, Beacons only need to provide signal strengths during Bluetooth location. Data transmission between the location servers and terminal Apps still depends on carriers’ networks or Wi-Fi networks. Location is completed only after multiple data exchanges. For this reason, Bluetooth location data carried over Wi-Fi networks will not add any additional traffic fees for customers.

Figure 2. Bluetooth Location

Bluetooth Modules Are Built into APs

Bluetooth location will undoubtedly improve business application usage. However, problems that come with setting up a separate network must also be considered. These problems include site selection and power supply of Beacon management devices, unified portal of Bluetooth location data and Wi-Fi network data, and management of all Bluetooth devices.

Huawei AP4050DN-E contains embedded Bluetooth modules. This AP model, working with the Huawei eSight server, achieves location accuracy of 1 m and supports the WeChat Shake function, further enriching business Wi-Fi applications. The AP4050DN-E can directly power its built-in Bluetooth modules, resolving the site selection and power supply problems of Beacon management devices. It can also convert Bluetooth protocol data into IP data to complete in-depth coupling between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks, resolving the unified portal problem of different network data.

The eSight server can manage Bluetooth modules to centrally control bottom-layer Bluetooth Beacons, can maintain Beacon location information, and display the real-time status of Beacons, such as Beacon connection and battery power status. If a Beacon loses its connection with the eSight server or its power is insufficient, the server clearly displays the exception. An administrator can easily find the faulty Beacon based on the information displayed in a map and handle the exception.

Figure 3. Huawei Bluetooth Location

Flexible IoT Expansion, Poised for Future IoT Development

In addition to Bluetooth, IoT technologies, such as RFID, ZigBee, and ANT, are being widely applied across various industries. For example, RFID is used in the healthcare field to prevent baby theft or implement Mobile Injection; ZigBee is used in the industrial manufacturing field for automatic electricity meter reading. However, like Bluetooth, these applications also encounter data integration and management problems. Setting up a separate data network or management platform for them is troublesome. It is a better option to integrate them into an existing mature network or management platform.

Huawei AP4050DN-E not only contains embedded Bluetooth module but also realizes the convergence of IoT technologies, such as RFID, ZigBee, and ANT. This AP model achieves Wi-Fi network coverage and IoT technology applications using only one set of network devices. For example, Huawei AP4050DN-E provides three built-in Mini PCIe interfaces to extend the IoT modules and supports mixed insertion of the modules, allowing you to choose based on requirements. It is able to supply PoE power to another AP or IoT modules. Compliant with 802.11ac Wave 2, the AP4050DN-E provides significantly improved multi-user access performance, with a maximum rate of 1.267 Gbit/s (867 Mbit/s [5 GHz] + 400 Mbit/s [2.4 GHz] = 1.267 Gbit/s).

The AP4050DN-E has open interfaces, enabling flexible and extended access from various IoT devices. Enterprises can easily complete rapid IoT deployment or future application expansion, without the need to worry about future IoT development.

By Ma Zhenpeng