Qualcomm, Estimote targeting the micro-location market

The use of micro-location as a boost for retail sales and other applications is getting more attention. Not only did this week bring news from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) regarding a new commercial product release, but a startup also raked in a seed round of funding to launch its beacon business.

Qualcomm announced the commercial release of its Gimbal-brand proximity beacons through its Qualcomm Retail Solutions subsidiary. The Gimbal beacons--which employ low-energy Bluetooth Smart technology--are available in two models and are accurate down to one foot whether indoors or outdoors.

Qualcomm's Gimbal context-aware platform supports Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, but the new Gimbal proximity beacons only support iOS today with planned support for Android not far down the road. Companies that deploy the Gimbal platform can manage Gimbal beacons using Gimbal Manager.

"Gimbal--with its proximity beacons that use low-energy Bluetooth Smart--is the complete package. Given the affordable pricing of the beacons, retailers and venue operators can install a network for customer engagement that is both more accurate and less expensive than other location-based systems," said Rocco Fabiano, president of Qualcomm Retail Solutions. 

Also this week, AllThingsD reported that Estimote, which is also targeting the retail market for its wireless beacons, has raised a $3.1 million seed round from numerous venture firms and angel investors, including Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors, Betaworks and Bessemer Venture Partners. Estimote says it is piloting its sensor technologies with large U.S. and European retailers.

Qualcomm and Estimote face competition from Apple, which has its own version of this technology, called iBeacons. Apple has already deployed iBeacons in its own stores and has been working with Major League Baseball and Macy's to employ the technology.

Retailers are interested in beacons because they can be used to track in-store customers, helping them deliver relevant, personalized content to customer devices to drive more sales. In addition to proximity marketing, beacons potentially enable in-store analytics, indoor navigation and contactless payments, according to Estimote.

Other approaches to indoor tracking and positioning run the gamut and include imaging from smartphone cameras, Wi-Fi , sound waves, magnetics and visible light.

For more:
- see this Qualcomm release
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this Engadget article

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