Staff and asset tracking systems work through the interaction of portable tracking devices and stationary checkpoints. For smartphone systems, these checkpoints either use BLE or NFC technology.

What is BLE?

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a set of technological standards for allowing different hardware devices to communicated wirelessly and is one of several systems that do this. BLE works by sending a series of packets of information over the microwave frequency range of 2.4000 to 2.4835 GHz. This is the same frequency range for similar systems such as Wi-Fi, classic Bluetooth, some active RFID devices, and microwave ovens.

Bluetooth Low Energy has been around since 2009 and was named by the Nordic engineers that created the standard after the Danish King Harard Bluetooth who united Denmark with parts of Norway in the 10th century. King Harard also had a problem with tooth decay.

Why Use the Same Frequency as Wi-Fi?

Developers have intentionally created systems that operate specifically in this range because these frequencies have been set aside by international agreement for the use of industrial, scientific and medical devices (ISM). This makes these frequencies free to operate within, unlike other frequencies that are reserved for special use, or require expensive licences to use.

How Does Bluetooth Work?

Bluetooth works by two devices pairing, in a process where the devices make contact and verify trust though the use of security keys. Usually, one device sends out signals “advertising” its intent to pair for a particular reason, with the other device scanning for the advertised signal.

When an advertised signal is found the user is asked if they want to pair the devices. Once paired, a stream of information packets (that can be encrypted for extra security), are sent between the devices.

Data is sent using adaptive frequency hopping that reduces, although not eliminates interference from other devices operating in the same frequencies. This process also reduces battery usage.

What Are Some of the Uses For BLE?

The uses for Bluetooth Low Energy have started to explode in recent years particularly as a way of connecting smart devices with each other, or with smartphones. Uses include medical and fitness devices, along with portable speakers and wireless headphones. Staff attendance verification and tracking is another area of increasing use.

The Good and the Bad of Bluetooth Checkpoints

From the perspective of a user, Bluetooth beacons behaves in a similar way to active RFID beacons with some slight differences. The most noticeable is that Bluetooth is natively supported by newer smartphone devices such as iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry, unlike RFID which is not. The benefit of this is that BLE can be used with downloadable apps, which can be cheaper to set up. The downside of this is more with the phone which are not as durable as purpose-built hardware.

NFC checkpoints can also be used with smartphones, are much cheaper, more durable, and don’t require batteries, while Bluetooth beacons are battery operated. Staff location is also more accurately pin-pointed with NFC checkpoints over Bluetooth beacons because the staff need to actively swipe the checkpoint with their phone.

BLE therefore mostly used in indoor situations where you need to record staff movement without them interacting with the checkpoints, or when the checkpoints need to be placed out of the reach of vandalism.

Summing Up

Bluetooth beacons are the idea checkpoint for use with smartphone app-based tracking systems where it is more convenient for staff to not swipe the checkpoint such as cleaners, who need to keep their hands free for other duties. Often beacons are used in conjunction with NFC checkpoints to maximise the advantages of each type of checkpoint.

If you are using a smartphone-based staff attendance tracking system, there a plenty of good reasons to use Bluetooth beacons. Want to find out more contact our sales team today.