Walk through an airport or a shopping mall and you may notice little pieces of information popping up: “Flight delayed at gate G5”; “Stop into our shop right now and receive up to 20 percent off your order”; etc. Did you sign up for those notifications? Most likely not, but don’t worry, your phone hasn’t been hacked. The notifications are a result of beacon technology.

What is Beacon Technology?

Beacons are a leading edge technology that combines sensors with geolocation and Bluetooth connectivity from smart phones to deliver notifications directly to users as they pass through the vicinity. Because most beacons today utilize Bluetooth Low Energy, the ideal application for the technology is for hyper-local, micro-spatial networks. The beacons themselves are typically small, self-contained devices that are inexpensive, have a long battery lifespan, and easily programmed with specific information. These small devices are traditionally not two-way functional; that is, they will simply broadcast a signal that passing smartphones can pick up, much like, well, a beacon.

Where Can I Find a Beacon?

Surprisingly, many retail areas, including malls or standalone brick and mortars, are already using the technology. Increasingly, airports, universities and stadiums/arenas are deploying the technology as well. Many beacons require the user to have a specific app in order to receive the updates – for instance, at a mall, a user would need to have the Starbucks app downloaded in order to receive the notification – but some newer applications of the technology may not require an app. Airports are using beacons to inform travelers of flight updates or specials at the nearest food and beverage proprietor. Universities are using them to inform students of events near them, and stadiums are using beacons for a combination of the two.

Why should I care about Beacons?

Beacons are the next iteration of direct-to-consumer, hyper-local technology, so although the element of convenience exists for the user, it’s also worth considering the future implications. By nature, the use of this technology means data is involved. Marketers, will definitely benefit from the added data collection that comes with the use of beacons and the accompanying applications. By tracking the effectiveness of a certain beacon within a company’s app, marketers and business development teams will be able to get a more accurate read on targeted consumer habits.

This shouldn’t be a concern, however, as smartphone already transmit massive amounts of data on a daily basis, whether we’re aware of it or not, but the added use of specific geolocation data will be another layer of information beyond simple purchasing habits. How likely was the user to enter the store after receiving the notification? Were they more apt to use the app to interact online, or did the use of beacons prompt a spike in face-to-face interaction? These are just a few of the considerations the public should keep in mind.

The technology itself has been around for several years, but the market has traditionally been dominated by big players Apple and Google. Today, however, the availability of beacons has increased, and the result is a greater potential for application growth moving forward.