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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About the Author

Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.