Nordic beacons and iOS

The beacon market is going in various directions with regard to format and limitations, but the nRF51822 can support all the various BLE based beacons as it’s just a specific type of non-connectable BLE advertising. The difference is that the content of the advertising package may differ between various beacon implementations. The structure of the beacon package is described well in the spec description from AltBeacon (http://altbeacon.org/) and this figure.

You can with the nRF51822 be compatible with different beacon implementations by changing the content of the advertising package. There’s also an option to use the nRF51822 with the “timeslot API” in the softdevice S110 that will enable you to advertise for two different beacon configurations concurrently.

Due to changes in behavior in iOS8 compared to previous version (the Nordic vendor id is now masked out from the core location framework), there has been questions on how to make the beacon code examples and beacon kit from Nordic to act as Apple iBeacon. Nordic provides code examples for beacon functionality for various boards and configurations. These are by default setup with Nordic specific structure and may not be compliant with beacon listening devices and this specifically applies for Apples iBeacon implementation. To design an iBeacon with Nordic solution you must be an iBeacon Licensee to get the information needed to make the beacon code from Nordic iBeacon compliant.

For more information, please visit: https://developer.apple.com/ibeacon/

Nordic currently have beacon example code in the nRF51 SDK and for the nRF51822 Bluetooth Smart Beacon kit.

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  • Thank you for this post Asbjørn.

    Due to changes in behavior in iOS8 compared to previous version (the Nordic vendor id is now masked out from the core location framework)

    According to this answer, advertising frames are filtered by the Core Location API if the Company Identifier is not the Apple Id (0x004C). But we can still do a standard BLE scan and manually decoding the user information ?

    The sample NRF51 Beacon application made for the pca20006 kit uses the iBeacon advertising format - with the Nordic Semiconductor company identifier, so technically this is an iBeacon, right ? But is the pca20006 MFi Licensed ? So can you use the iBeacon format or the Apple company identifier ?

    The MFi licence is for hardware and software ?

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Regards, Christopher

  • I think this is a really good question and unfortunately we can't guarantee anything when it comes to Apple and their plans as it's outside Nordics control. However, I do not think that they will add any security chips and I don't think compatibility between ibeacon designs based on nRF51822 and iOS will be a problem. We try to adapt to what our customers need and for many of them connectivity to Apple based products is important so it's not something that we will ignore if something should be changed.

  • Can we be assured that the Nordic Semi nRF51822 is still sufficient to implement beacons that are compatible with the iBeacon protocol? In other words, that Apple is not introducing a feature (for example, a security chip requirement) that would make it impossible to use the existing Nordic Semi solution? The reality is anyone can 'sniff' the iBeacon format and reverse-engineer the protocol elements since it is just a BLE advertising packet.