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5 points to consider while deciding between Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology for Real Time Location Systems

7th January 2018     

As a consumer, you would have been privy to automated notifications on your cellphone in malls, touting usage of free wifi in lieu of sharing your contact details. You would have also received bluetooth based discount notifications when you pass by a particular store.

Interestingly, apart from their widespread use for marketing, these technologies are quite useful for tracking enterprise assets in real time. In certain use cases WiFi is used in tandem with BLE to achieve a better tracking performance and ROI

Here are 5 inherent differences between these technologies which should be considered while implementing them partially or in tandem.

Technology

Wi-Fi was primarily developed to make wires on LAN networks obsolete. Bluetooth was invented to facilitate personal area networks (PAN) between computing devices (laptops, smartphones) and peripherals such as keyboards and headsets, usually over shorter distances than Wi-Fi.


Hence, Wi-Fi is preferred when tracking an asset accurately in a larger area. However, when it comes to micro-locating an asset, BLE is a better technology as Wi-Fi signals dont penetrate well through solid objects, including walls.


Privacy

Consumers are not explicitly asked for their permission to be tracked or to be sent notifications as long as they have turned on their Wi-Fi network. This underlying feature is often used by retailers to send marketing messages to customers while they are in a mall.


For BLE to interact with the consumer, they have to manually switch on the Bluetooth facility on their phones, allow location detection and opt-in to receive in-store or indoor notifications. Thus BLE ensures more privacy while Wi-Fi allows easier accessibility.


Data Transfer

Wi-Fi enables sending larger packets of data in real-time between devices, at high speeds of about 1.3 Gbps, provided both devices have their MAC ids.


BLE can send short bursts of data at around 1 Mbps and are beneficial for smaller numerical updates like sensor readings of temperature, acceleration details, GPS coordinates etc. However, its not suitable for sharing real time updates with a server.


Power Consumption

Keeping the natures of the tasks similar, BLE devices have lower power consumption than Wi-Fi ones as they usually emit signals for shorter distances as compared to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi devices need considerable power, about 500µW for ten messages per day, while BLE consumes only 50µW.



Set Up

BLE is very user friendly to set up and can seamlessly connect to many devices within a single network. However, Wi-Fi requires some level of technical knowledge to set up a system and may require expert intervention.


Hence, as you would have realized, BLE is a good choice when you would like to exchange simple data at low power while Wi-Fi is a better alternative when bandwidth intensive data needs to be transferred across the network. Depending on specific use-cases, the devices used and their purpose, both technologies are beneficial in their own ecosystems.


You can connect with us at info (at) ecsg (dot) com (dot) au to learn more