In and of itself, beacons work according to the simple rules of Bluetooth and, at their basis, they do not challenge companies that would like to implement their basic technology. The situation gets complicated when they want to apply the possibilities brought by the new generation of Bluetooth — Bluetooth 5.1. It allows for finding the things with accuracy running down to a few centimeters, so we can imagine that businesses like warehouses, shopping malls or airports (where precise wayfinding for the transferring travelers can sometimes be the only chance to catch the airplane in time) can now benefit from it more.
Old beacons we heard, the new ones we see
To get the most of Bluetooth 5.1, its users have to coordinate the whole system that basically splits into two parts: the devices that transmit data and those which receive it. Until not so recently, if one wanted to track anything via Bluetooth, all was supported only by RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication). The device which received the signal knew the strength of it so it could tell if the transmitter was far away or somewhere nearby — knowing the exact position was not that obvious, though. The position could be determined by a process called trilateration, meaning, measuring the signal between three known reference points (e.g.: two antennas and one smartphone).
The accuracy of the data obtained through the RSSI method is condemned to the whims of: the signal path between the transmitter and receiver; the infrastructure between the receivers and some centralized server; or the architecture of the building beacons are used in. All in all, these factors limit the accuracy of the data position of an object in interest from 1 to 10 meters. Bluetooth 5.1, with its direction-finding capability, goes down to centimeters. That brings the analogy that beacons with the legacy Bluetooth system might have been heard — in distance or nearby, left or right; the beacons using the 5.1 version can be really seen, pointed out — the item in the warehouse is stored on this or that shelf right by this or that object.
But before we jump deep into the tech specification of the beacons using this innovation, let me outline the ways companies can avail themselves of beacons in general.