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Aruba Sensor takes tracking beacons to other Wi-Fi networks

Aruba's new Sensor product makes it possible to use the company's indoor tracking beacons on third-party Wi-Fi networks.

Wireless network provider Aruba Networks has introduced indoor tracking and marketing technology that retailers, stadiums and other businesses can use on any vendor's Wi-Fi network.

Aruba Sensor, introduced this week along with new analytics, is the latest addition to the company's Mobile Engagement product line, a collection of software and hardware that includes tracking beacons, Wi-Fi and application development.

Aruba, which is owned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, engineered Mobile Engagement to tap the Wi-Fi indoor positioning market. Venues from stadiums and airports to hospitals and museums use the technology to push messages and promotions to people's mobile phones, based on their location. Accessing a venue's services requires users to download a mobile app.

Enabling beacons to work on any network

Communicating with mobile devices is done through beacons, which are battery-powered, matchbook-sized devices with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio that can transmit a signal about 100 feet. Until Sensor, Aruba's beacons operated only on the vendor's Wi-Fi network.

The new technology, which is about the size of a deck of cards, talks to the beacons over BLE. Sensor uses the resident Wi-Fi network to connect to Aruba's online beacon management platform, which also provides tools for building the applications used to deliver location-based services.

The use of Wi-Fi networks to connect to management and security software is a trend among beacon makers, said Mark Hung, an analyst at Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn. "You can expect to see other similar solutions coming to the market in the near future."

Aruba Sensor, which has a list price of $195, can communicate with beacons within a radius of 80 feet. Customers can plug the devices into an AC power outlet.

Tracking beacon management, analytics

Aruba's management platform spots beacons that are not working. It can also change the power level of the devices to increase or decrease their range.

Aruba has added to the platform analytics for beacon-collected data, which includes the types of devices people are carrying and their location. The software can also track the movement of mobile devices in a building. To ensure privacy, Aruba aggregates the data, so an organization can track people's activities as a whole, as opposed to individually.

Aruba beacon users include Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha, Neb.; Orlando (Fla.) International Airport; and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

While some venues have successfully deployed tracking technology, others, including retailers Nordstrom Inc. and Philz Coffee, have had to drop its use due to shoppers' privacy concerns. In a study conducted last year, OpinionLab Inc. found that 80% of shoppers do not want stores to track their movements via smartphones. More than 40% said they were less likely to shop at a retailer that used tracking technology.

Nevertheless, Aruba hopes to grow its customer base by making it easier for developers to build applications for its products. In addition to Aruba Sensor, the company introduced a partner program that lets developers download a software developer's kit for connecting their apps to Aruba beacons. Also, Aruba is willing to partner with app makers that want to resell the vendor's products.

The possibility of a reseller agreement gives developers "more incentive to use our beacons over some startup's or competitor's," said Jeff Hardison, director of product marketing for Aruba.

Next Steps

Indoor tracking technology raises privacy concerns

Retailer Nordstrom seeks better customer service with indoor beacons

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