Location-aware advertising was thrown into the spotlight last year when Apple launched its iBeacon service in 254 stores. iBeacon uses Bluetooth transmitters to push alerts to shoppers' phones as they walk around Apple stores and other retail outlets. Foursquare launched a similar service that tracks your location and pushes alerts to your phone when it detects you are near something of interest. Datzing, a new service developed by ex-Vertu designer Frank Nuovo and launching for Android later this year, promises to take that idea even further by making it easier for businesses and groups to broadcast messages to passersby.

Datzing's system essentially behaves the same way as Apple's iBeacon: when a user is in range of a beacon, their phone will receive a notification in the Datzing app. The difference with Datzing and iBeacon is that Datzing is not limited to Apple's ecosystem and doesn't actually require an investment in any hardware to set up a beacon.

Any Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device can be used as a Datzing beacon, including deactivated cellphones

The service's hook is that it lets users set up any existing Wi-Fi or Bluetooth device as a beacon that can broadcast information to users of the app that are within its proximity. Older cellphones with Bluetooth aren't required to have active service plans to work as a Datzing beacon, giving those old, discarded flip phones a new lease on life. (Datzing estimates that there are hundreds of millions or even billions of older phones and devices not currently being used that can be repurposed as beacons.) The actual technology behind the service is patent pending, but Datzing says that it uses publicly identifiable information from the Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices to register them on its network. It also notes that no personal information is captured or broadcast by its service.

Zings can be images, links, coupons, or other data

Users that have created Datzing accounts and have the app installed on their phones can choose what categories of zings (the pieces of data broadcasted by beacons in Datzing's world) will be received by their phones. Zings can be anything from a basic link to a website, to a social media profile or image, to a coupon. The zings are collected passively by the app once the user is within range and there is no need to open the app to receive them. Users can then review the zings collected by the app at their leisure. There is also a live mode, which displays all of the currently broadcasting beacons in an area, regardless of category, and ranks them by proximity to the user. None of this requires a GPS lock or even a cellular connection — the entire service is dependent on WI-Fi and Bluetooth signals.

The Datzing app also allows users to manage which devices are beaconing under their account. A Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device can be added to an account and set up to broadcast as a beacon within moments. Datzing is encouraging business owners and others to "reserve" their Wi-Fi networks as beacons even if they don't intend to use the service so as to prevent others from taking them over. There is a provision within the app to report beacons that are being used inappropriately, but the potential for abuse by spammers is still there.

Datzing's goal is for businesses and private clubs to use the service as an advertising or selling tool. The app and the first beacon will be offered for free. The company intends on charging fees for subsequent beacons added to an account, though it is not releasing pricing details at this time.

Datzing's biggest challenge will be getting users to sign up

The biggest challenge for Datzing is the same as any other new service — it's going to be difficult to get people to sign up for and use the app to even see the zings that are being broadcast around them. Datzing hopes that its broad compatibility and ease of use will spark adoption through word of mouth. The company also plans to partner with businesses and groups to expand the number of beacons transmitting zings.

Datzing is taking sign ups for testers at datzing.com starting today, and it intends to launch the beta version of the app in March. A final release is scheduled for later this year. Though Datzing will initially launch on Android, the company is working on getting the service out to other platforms, including iOS.