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Hotels, Retailers Try Cisco's Beacon-Management System

Using BLE-enabled Cisco access points, Cisco's CMX 10.0 software can identify when a beacon is missing or moved, or if it is a rogue.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 27, 2015

Several companies, including sports arenas, hotels and shopping areas, are piloting a new beacon-management dashboard provided by network technology company Cisco. Using Cisco's Connected Mobile Experience (CMX 10.0) software and Wi-Fi access points fitted with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) modules, the dashboard (part of the company's CMX 10.0 platform) can calculate the locations of Bluetooth beacons and place them on an indoor map. By viewing the map, users can verify the locations of beacons installed on their premises, as well as determine when the devices are moved or may be placed too close together, and thus need to be re-deployed in such a way that they do not interfere with each other's transmissions. Users can also ascertain if any beacons were installed by an unauthorized party.

A number of years ago, Cisco began offering its Mobility Services Engine (MSE) software, initially intended to detect the locations of Wi-Fi based devices, such as smartphones, laptops or tablets, and to manage data regarding their movements, mostly for security purposes, explains Prashanth Shenoy, Cisco's senior marketing director of enterprise networking and mobility. By knowing where devices are located, he says, a company could identify the movements of individuals in areas, for instance, where they should not be.

The beacon-management dashboard for the CMX 10.0 platform includes a map that shows the locations of Bluetooth beacons currently in operation, identifying those that are missing, misplaced or unauthorized. (View a larger version.)
Once the software was commercially available and in use by customers, however, retailers indicated that they saw value in tracking the movements of those customers (by counting the signals sent by their mobile phones) to better manage their stores and product displays. Companies such as big-box retailers that have limited store personnel on-hand wanted to be able to track where and when shoppers congregated, and thereby create a planogram according to people's movements.

The Mobility Services Engine solution, Shenoy says, led to development of the CMX 10.0, a platform that uses MSE enterprise software for location data management, and also comes with a software development kit (SDK) to allow developers to create apps, so that a company could forward data relevant to a specific location to a user of that app, based on where that individual is located. In this way, similarly to BLE, the technology can bring relevant content to an individual based on his or her location. CMX 10.0 tracks the locations of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, as well as beacons.

Approximately 650 companies are using the technology to date, he notes, including MGM Resorts and Miami Children's Hospital. For instance, the Bellagio app allows individuals to find MGM Resorts businesses throughout Las Vegas, as well as identify the location of a place of interest, such as a coffee shop or a conference room within a hotel.

Bluetooth beacons offer similar functionality, but with greater location granularity. For instance, while Wi-Fi-based systems can indicate a person is in a specific department of a large store, a BLE beacon solution can pinpoint that location to a specific aisle, or to a point in front of a particular display. Wi-Fi nodes can be installed as far as 2,500 feet apart, while beacons can be installed at a density ten times that amount or more, in order to bring location data to within a few feet.

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