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A Thousand Beacons Will Help SXSW Attendees Connect

The Bluetooth devices will allow users at the music and film festival to see who is on stage or which film is showing at their location, while enabling them to link up with people of interest within their vicinity.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 03, 2015

This year's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival will feature one of the largest Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon deployments ever carried out for an event—with 1,000 beacons installed at approximately 276 venues throughout the city of Austin, Texas. Unlike many BLE solutions that focus on providing promotional data with a goal of prompting sales of consumer products, this one has a primary purpose of connecting users with information about what they see at their location, as well as connecting attendees with each other.

SXSW, a music, film and interactive (Internet-based content and applications) festival and conference that takes place throughout Austin for several days each March, has been growing annually. Last year's event included 2,200 performers and bands performing on more than 100 stages, as well as 145 feature films. It attracts up to 20,000 registered attendees.

SXSW's organizers are installing 1,000 of Gimbal's Series 21 Bluetooth beacons at approximately 276 venues throughout Austin.
The beacon installation follows a much smaller trial conducted during last year's SXSW show, at which 40 beacons were deployed at the registration area where attendees provide a Quickcode in order to receive their badge (which serves as a ticket for access to SXSW events), as well as in several session rooms. Mobile app developer Eventbase provides the platform on which the new SXSW GO app is built, with functionality that will let a user locate nearby people of interest, as well as receive invitations to join discussions as that individual arrives at sessions, and bus information at the shuttle stops.

SXSW will soon begin installing Gimbal Bluetooth beacons at each of the event's venues, such as at each stage where bands perform, as well as in session rooms and some open areas, according to Scott Wilcox, SXSW's director of technology. The beacons' installation and configuration are being provided by Austin Internet connectivity company RightRound.

The SXSW GO app has been offered for several years to help event attendees navigate through the various performances and exhibits, as well as network with others at the show. For instance, the app offers a list of bands playing at specific times at each location, as well as movie locations and times. With the GO app, users could also look up who else was attending, based on a variety of categories, including shared interests or their employers.

But with beacon technology added to the GO app, says Jeff Sinclair, a co-founder of Eventbase, which provided the content and platform for the app, that data could be made available to users at the most relevant times—for instance, while they are standing in front of a stage, or in a session room where a person of interest happens to be present as well.

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