How Kew Gardens use iBeacons and Wi-Fi to Improve Visitor Experience

Written by: Jon Little @ Kew Gardens | September 30, 2015

iBeacons and Wi-Fi at Kew Gardens

For the past few months I have been working on improving the iBeacons and Wi-Fi at Kew to help enable a new mobile app that provides relevant, timely and quality information as visitors journey around the site.

If the use of iBeacons and Wi-Fi is new to you, they allow companies to interact with vistors and provide additional information, or offers, based on their location. 

If done correctly, users get contextual, timely interactions via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) enabled iBeacons.

We have 21 iBeacons at Kew and a further 13 at Wakehurst, our sister site. We also have over 300 acres of land at Kew with Wi-Fi areas in approximately 50 locations throughout the site, and a further six Wi-Fi zones at Wakehurst.

Both present practical problems when looking to utilise Wi-Fi and iBeacons.

After working with both technologies I believe combining Wi-Fi and iBeacons can provide a better experience for visitors.

But here are a few key considerations before commiting to a roll out:

  1. How good is your 3G/4G connection?

At Kew we know people use their 3G/4G to download the app when they see the advertising prompts.

I can see already that having a free, easy to connect to visitor Wi-Fi offer which redirects to a page advertising the app considerably helps with downloads.

Also we know inside buildings, glasshouses and galleries at Kew the 3G/4G connectivity can be patchy. For a smartphone app that is potentially talking with the iBeacons it's important to have a fast data connection, whether that be mobile or Wi-Fi.

  1. Home is where the Wi-Fi is:

To make people feel at home we need to provide decent Wi-Fi, but more importantly it has to be easy to connect to, and available when our visitors are onsite.

I believe decent Wi-Fi is going to matter as much in the future as clean toilets and the quality of the food served on feedback sites for visitor attractions.

  1. iBeacons in close proximity to Wi-Fi Access points:

Bluetooth can cause issues with 2.4GHz wireless connections. There are in built mechanisms to avoid this where possible, but prudent planning of the wireless network is also a vital aspect in ensuring this does not become a problem, and reduce interference between wireless technologies sharing the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

For example, ensuring your network has appropriate 5GHz availability and capacity.

  1. Eddystone and the removal of the app layer:

Android see the world of beacons working to provide contextual based information without the need for a specific app.

Their Eddystone beacon format allows beacons to interact through the Google Chrome browser and present URLs that allows users the same experience.

Some see iBeaons as limited, due to as present iOS requires you to download an app and manage the experience through this.

Eddystone offers a solution that removes this potential barrier.

  1. This issue of data and trust:

In order to get analytics and information, there is a responsibility to explain how you will use data, and exactly what you are collecting. Without making privacy policies clear, users may turn their Bluetooth off because they don’t trust the handling of their personal data.

The opportunity:

The Internet of Things dictates the need for devices to be fully connected, allowing reporting, tracking, and adding to the big data challenge.

Everything will have an IP address and an opportunity to add some value. 

"We're clearly moving from a physical to a digital world, so how do you blur the line between both?” - Not my words, but those of J. Francois Nion, Co-Managing Director of the Outfront/JCDecaux partnership, developing wired bus stops in Los Angeles that allows Wi-Fi access, USB charging points and travel information. 

If we can provide frictionless visitor Wi-Fi in our spaces, aided by analytics on usage and connection, we can use Geofences to entice people to specific locations within our Gardens, and use iBeacons to provide the micro level interactions and analytics, layering on science stories, history and commercial opportunities at Kew.  

Wi-Fi and iBeacons working together can help provide a seamless and above all personalised consumer experience. For example, retailers are empowered with information allowing them to break the cycle of showrooming, where people visit to check out a particular product, but are powerless to stop them then taking that search online in pursuit of a better deal.

In the future there will be an opportunity for retailers to be part of this conversation, underpinned by Wi-Fi and iBeacons. 

The future use of Wi-Fi at Kew will see us unlock video resources to provide delight and intrigue on the small screen. The app will know you are in a Wi-Fi zone, ask you to connect to it and then provide the means through which you can be provided with a relevant, timely and high quality piece of information, that adds value to your journey around Kew and Wakehurst.

We want to make more of these opportunities to connect and engage, and to help visitors understand the science of Kew and how we make a difference.

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It's clear not only from hearing about the impact of Wi-Fi at Kew, but also the growing call for free access across both visitors attractions and retail, that this is an area which will only develop over coming years.

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