Up until now most retailers have been deploying Apple’s iBeacon technology by purchasing small standalone Bluetooth beacons or using iPad terminals that act as beacons. Now, GE is introducing its next-generation LED light fixture that packs in a combo Bluetooth LE/Visual Light Communication chip for iBeacon functionality allowing retailers to cut costs and avoid purchasing standalone beacons from a company like Estimote. It’s already got one massive customer about to roll out the iBeacon lighting fixtures: Walmart announced back in April (before iBeacon support was announced) that it plans to roll out these same new GE lighting fixtures to stores worldwide as part of its switch to LED.

GE Lighting and ByteLight today announced they will showcase the next generation of LED lighting fixtures that communicate with shoppers’ smart devices while in-store, enabling retailers to provide exciting new location-based services using GE LED infrastructure. The innovative solution featuring GE’s Lumination™ LED Luminaire – IS Series… The solution combines Visible Light Communication (VLC), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and inertial device sensors, and supports any Android or iOS application on a smart device equipped with a camera and/or Bluetooth® Smart technology. The comprehensive approach enables retailers to reach a broad number of shoppers across the largest area—from the parking lot to anywhere in the store there is LED light.

While Walmart hasn’t said exactly what features it plans to offer with iBeacons, GE’s lightning fixtures like standalone beacons will be capable of beaming coupons, promotions, product info, store maps and just about any experience developers can think up via the store’s mobile app. GE is also hoping that visual light communication technology in addition to iBeacon functionality will be a draw for retailers that would like to interact with older devices. The technology, which Philips recently introduced in its LED lighting fixtures, allows retailers to communicate with any device via its camera.

There’s other big incentives for retailers to go with GE lighting fixtures instead of standalone beacons too. ByteLight, the company that is providing the Bluetooth chip for GE, noted in a recent blog post that “The move to LED ceiling lighting in the U.S. is expected to produce an energy savings of 340,000 KW hours per store – equating to more than $34,000 in savings per year in each store.”

Other than the ability to save on the investment of iBeacons and get a faster return on investment for LED deployment, ByteLight notes that it allows retailers to avoid the cost of maintaing battery life of standalone beacons. The ByteLight chip is powered by the lightning fixture itself, which have around a 15 year lifespan, compared to standalone iBeacons that require replacement bi-annually.

We previously reported that Walmart and Walgreens were testing iBeacon solutions, but at the time Walmart’s solution was said to still be in the lab while Walgreens and other retailers have rolled out real world pilots in stores across the country.

GE is officially unveiling the new lighting fixture at LIGHTFAIR International 2014 in Las Vegas next week on June 3. Walmart is already starting to roll out the lighting fixtures in stores, but it’s unclear when it might start taking advantage of the iBeacon functionality for shoppers. 

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16 Responses to “GE integrates iBeacons in new LED lighting fixtures rolling out in Walmart & other retailers”

  1. Still don’t understand why anyone is excited about iBeacons.
    Anyone who actually *wants* to be advertised too is just a fool IMO.

    Why not buy what you want, and what you have personally decided is the thing you want to buy … instead of buying what you are being *told* to buy or convinced to buy?

    It’s as if people actually prefer being part of the herd instead of individual, thinking, agents of their own experiences.


    • I understand what you mean, however, I think iBeacons do have value.

      1. If I run into a walmart to buy bananas and they alert me to bread I buy that is now 25% off. or whatever. I like to be aware.

      2. If I can’t find something…iBeacons can says what aisle.

      3. If I am doing to buy a $200 item they will more quickly give me online info and reviews. Instead of googling the item it simply pops up and says “would you like to know more about this item?” I almost always go online and read reviews before buying some new item.


    • If you think its just for advertising, you don’t really know much about iBeacon technology. Indoor mapping. It great for finding things in a store or a particular brand, it can lead you right to it. Its convenient, its fast. It might even offer you a coupon for that item your looking for. iBeacons can be used for indoor mapping, location based games. Used in stadiums for finding your seat, ordering food. Possibilities are nearly endless.


    • jfdonohoe says:

      Grey: I think its a totally understandable reaction given the every increasing noise of SPAM being delivered through every conceivable channel.

      I have to imaging that the creator’s of BLE beacons are worried about it as well. If they become known as only a channel for disruptive, unwanted offers then nobody is going to allow that type of messaging to have access to their phones (I know I am very careful about what apps I allow to have access to my notification center).

      I think its the job of product developers and designers to ensure that user-friendly best practices are established that support user’s needs, not self-serving business objectives. Travis mentions some good ones and there are many more.

      Its easy to imagine the abuses. I think we need to challenge the professionals who determine how this technology appears in the public to make sure its done in a way that helps people.


    • You can use iBeacons to triangulate positions for indoor mapping for one. That’s a huge reason to use them.

      Other reasons include being able to relay real time data when a user is searching like hey what isles do I need to go to for the items on my shopping list and what is the best root, telling you there is a check out empty at the end of the massive checkout line opposite of you etc…

      You can image a lot of uses if you are fixated on advertisements…


  2. todd022 says:

    I am not super familiar with the constraints of iBeacons. Could that technology, or any other protocol supported by these new GE lights, be used to communicate with cell phones to determine when an area of the store requires full lighting or can dim some of the lights for low customer traffic? Automating that process would seem to be a great cost saver for stores.


  3. hannahjs says:

    I have always wanted to walk into a cavernous big box store, ask Siri where the masonry hammers or hair curlers are located, and be gently guided there. Is that too much to ask?


  4. The fascinating component to me is the ingenious inclusion of beacons into a power source through the light bulb socket. This eliminates tedious battery management, and guarantees an available power source that’s difficult to physically tamper with, versus a beacon plugged into a wall socket. Very cool.


    • Bill Carmody says:

      Agreed @matthewhdavis — this provides a tidy solution to what was looking like a huge maintenance problem — battery life and replacements. It solves a number of hardware issues and provides a tidy floor plan solution to what would otherwise be a messy challenge.


    • Huge fan of iBeacon tech but only issue I can see is that it also requires camera (maybe that is optional), what a battery killer for devices. Ran into this also when developing AR application and quickly learnt not to leave camera on too long. Having said this proximity tools are an exciting prospect for developers.


  5. As a retailer i asm waiting to see if anyone develops a security solution to go along with the beacon. one that can physically track an high value or high target sku around the store and knows when it is purchased or if its currently walking out the door without purchase. I assume because the system can triangulate where you are, surely there is a security tag solution that can have the same thing happen. Once the product hit a certain point in my store, i get a direct notification on my mobile so i can meet people, i mean shop lifters at the door.