Transport Information System Learnings

There’s a recent article on ZDNet on Smartphones, Bluetooth beacons: The pairing that could help the blind catch the right bus. After weeks of testing, the city of Strasbourg in France is now ready to rollout a smartphone-based transport information system. 1,400 beacons at libraries, tourist spots and bus stops allow users to interact with city locations on their smartphones.

Two interesting issues with the initial trial were:

  • Slow detection time meant users at bus stops were being notified too late
  • Placing beacons behind the windscreens of busses, the 80m range wasn’t sufficient

While the article doesn’t explain how the slow detection time was solved we suspect it had something to do with the app having to connect to get information. This information might have been bus information or something to do with the beacon platform. Caching information or turning off advanced functionality that required the app to connect will have solved the problem. Alternatively, it could have been that the time between beacon advertising was too long preventing it from being picked up quickly by the app.

The 80m range was solved by configuring the beacons to be more powerful and transmit to 160 meters. Unless the beacon was already transmitting at less than normal (0dBm) power it wouldn’t have been possible to double the range by re-configuring the power. Most beacons go up to +4dBm which, while providing over double the power, wouldn’t have doubled the range. It’s more likely they had to use a different beacon with integrated power amplifier such as those in our Ultra Long Range.

New Tally App

We have just announced our new Tally app that can be used to monitor people or things that have beacons attached to them. It’s suitable for counting groups of people, for example, tour groups and educational classes or finding the wareabouts of things such as stock items, machines or vehicles. It’s also suitable for lone workers and evidence based working.

The app is csv driven in that you can import and export beacons of interest with given names and groups. You can then start/stop monitoring sessions on all beacons, all beacons declared in the app or just beacons in a named group. The results make up sessions of detected beacons that can, again, be exported to csv files. You can also choose to add arbitrary (prompted for) information to a session, for example a description of the location, that you might later use for analysis.


The power of the app comes from the fact it works in background and can also work unattended, stopping and starting sessions automatically during idle time when detected the beacons haven’t changed. The resulting session csv files can be automatically sent via email or ftp, with queuing for failed sends.


Here are some examples of how Tally can be used:

Managing Tour Groups: You might set up an Excel file with named grouped members that’s imported into the app. Give each a beacon and set the app to show those beacons that are missing. Start a session and the app will give you the names of those people missing.

Class Registration: Give each student a beacon. Import the student names from Excel and/or dynamically add the named students one by one by allowing the app to add the nearest beacon. Set the app to automatic sessions and email sending. The app will regularly report who is in the room. The app will also send the group if this has been set for the student.

Managing Stock: Put beacons on large or valuable stock items. Import the items from Excel or add manually in the app auto-filling the beacon uuid, major and minor for the closest beacon. Set the app to prompt for extra information at the start of a session. When you need to do a stock check, start a session, enter the room name or area and walk around the room. Stop the session and export the detected beacons. You might also set the minimum signal strength for detection so as to filter out beacons in adjacent rooms.

Evidence Based Working: Some jobs require workers to prove they have been at a particular place at a particular time. Site beacons at the places that need to be visited. Import the named place details and/or set them manually in the app (you can also export this data). Set the app to unattended use and FTP upload and give to the worker. You will receive where the worker has been, with named locations via FTP.

Testing Beacons: Some rollouts, for example at museums, need to regularly walk-test the routes to make sure the beacons are working and battery strength is sufficient. Set the app to detect all beacons and enable the battery monitoring. Walk the museum and all the beacons, with their battery levels will be recorded for the session. Export to Excel, send via email or share the output session file.

Learn more about Tally

Consequences of the Narrow Focus On Retail

Venture Beat has a great article by Kyle Fugere of dunnhumby Ventures on “Why indoor location tech is facing an uphill battle” where he says most beacon/platform providers have focussed on retail and consequently the:

“Refined focus has considerably shrunk the market opportunity for these companies”

He encourages companies to be

“more creative in regards to use cases”

and think about

“Banking, transportation, and live events with a potentially greater need and significantly shorter sales cycle”

We agree. Too many solutions tie beacons with a marketing platform. Also, one beacon type doesn’t fit all scenarios. One marketing platform certainly can’t fit all usecases. For example, a marketing platform isn’t suitable for security and sensing (IoT) applications.

The preponderance of beacon-based marketing platforms has obscured and confused what beacons actually are, due to over emphasis of the retail business benefits or description of proprietary server side CMS features. Many clients coming to us are actually confused.

The excessive competition in retail has caused beacon companies to have to run very lean. There’s noone to really talk to and even if you do get to talk to someone they only know about the benefits but can’t provide technical advice on how to solve your requirements.

Good business is all about listening to customers and adapting solutions. Most current platform providers can’t do that as most have trapped themselves with sparse human resources, narrow technical systems and very restricted ranges of beacon hardware.

Our site provides articles and a wide range of beacons to allow you to take advantage of beacons in scenarios outside traditional retail marketing and into new areas such as banking, security, transportation, distribution, sensing and the Internet of Things.