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Twenty miles with Bluetooth – new beacon billed as ‘game-changer’ for IoT, rival for LTE

Texas-based Apptricity has launched a long-range Bluetooth beacon capable of connecting sensors at distances of up to 20 miles outdoors, and up to 20 storeys indoors. It is presented as a low-cost alternative to LTE and satellite for long-range IoT connectivity, and a simpler and cheaper option for indoor Bluetooth-based mesh-networking. 

Its author claims the new beacon affords enterprise grade security for the retail, healthcare, distribution and logistics, and smart city sectors. The company called the new BLE solution a “game-changer” for IoT tracking, and noted supply deals with the likes of US operator Verizon and US logistics and security firm Brinks.

A spokesperson for the company called it “the most accurate, secure, and longest-ranging connection on the market”, compared with equivalent short-range Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and other IEEE 802.15.4 based solutions, offering 20-times the range, and rivalling low-power wide-area (LPWA) networking solutions, including the cellular pairing of NB-IoT and LTE-M, and also license-free technologies like LoRaWAN, MIOTY, and Sigfox. 

Apptricity, which supplies the US military, claims 90 percent lower deployment costs, compared with LTE and satellite. It described the cost and complexity of designing and installing short-range mesh networks with edge devices and antennas as “significant”, and suggested the price of a “tight mesh” to deliver sufficient accuracy can be “cost-prohibitive”. It solution is directly targeting 

Its new BLE beacon solution, based on the latest Bluetooth 5 standard, is targeted directly at customers considering LTE and short-range mesh networking to knit together their IoT devices, offering costs savings and simpler architecture. The solution (branded as ‘Ultra Long-Range Bluetooth Beacon’) is being “provided” to the commercial sector for indoor and outdoor IoT networks, including “clients like Verizon and Brinks”.

The firm said the solution will be pitched, via the likes of Verizon, to city authorities as a means to connect emergency services to track ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, and sundry mobile equipment and maintenance vehicles. It will also work to track “high-end, life-saving mobile equipment such as ventilators and heart monitors” in hospitals. Firms in construction, transportation, retail, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution have also been cited as potential customers.

Versions can be created with or without GPS, with various battery and encryption options. The battery is replaceable. The signal can be tuned for energy savings, and to cover transmissions at distances from 10 to 20 miles. “Other capabilities can be adjusted to create a bespoke solution for your enterprise,” said Apptricity. The beacon measures 1×2.8×1.8 inches, and works with Android and iPhone based apps. It comes out this month.

Tim Garcia, chief executive at Apptricity, said: “Many of our global customers were struggling with the range and costs of connecting most of their IoT assets, so I challenged our engineers to develop a lower-cost Bluetooth tracking solution that could cover at least 10 miles. They exceeded expectations. We were able to pick up the signal from over 20 miles, and are working with our engineers to see how much further we can take this technology.”

He added: “We are able to leverage the technology we have needed to solve the global challenges of our military and apply those solutions to the commercial sector, helping companies like Verizon and Brinks globally track, monitor, and manage their critical assets and inventory.”

Jeff Roster, leader of Apptricity’s retail advisory board, stated: “The reason I joined a vendor’s organization after serving as an industry analyst for several decades was due to the fact that Apptricity met the critical criteria that I had hoped for from a vendor to solve some of the most complex challenges in the retail sector. With this, Apptricity has the capability to transform the Retail environment. This is a game-changer.”

Gary Daichendt, a board advisor to Apptricity, stated “This technology will open up not only the range of current applications but the introduction of new ones not before considered feasible. I suspect that there will be significant interest in licensing it from other vendors. [It] will be the premier method of keeping assets secure, discoverable, trackable, and maintainable at all times – even at a great distance.”

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