6 Things to Know about Bluetooth Beacons

Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the manner in which people communicate with each other. Mobile applications with location-based features like Bluetooth beacons, WiFi, and GPS are helping people stay connected from any location.

An increasing number of companies are using innovative methods like Bluetooth beacons to touch base with their customers and engage them by offering contextual and personalized services. The Allied Business Intelligence Inc. estimates that the overall Bluetooth beacon market will cross 500 million units by 2021 with a compounded annual growth rate of 113 percent. Beacons will continue to gain importance as they find new applications in a variety of industries.

A Bluetooth beacon functions like a lighthouse, sending signals to ships (other devices) and enabling them to perform certain actions when in close proximity. This device has a variety of uses in advertising, retail, healthcare, transportation, museums, and stadiums.

Here are six things about Bluetooth beacons which will help you know how they can be used to benefit businesses and customers.

1. Beacons Need a Mobile Application to Function

Beacons can be detected through receiver devices like mobile applications on smartphones and tablets. Beacons work along with mobile apps to trigger push notifications when a user is in its range.

Beacons do not deliver content on their own and transmit only small packets of data that include the beacon ID, measured power, sensor data, battery level and telemetry data, and the URL address depending on the protocol being used.

Therefore, an app is required to detect beacons and read the embedded URL and/or the sensor and telemetry data. The apps also help beacons recognize their users and facilitate interactions.

On the other hand, beacons help apps get the real world context to deliver mobile experiences at the right time and place. A few apps that work best with beacons are Launch Here, BeHere, Proximitask, and Mingleton.

2.Beacon Placement Needs Proper Planning

Hypothetically, an application is supposed to identify and pick up the closest available signal. However, walls, doors, people, and other massive obstructions can impact the beacon’s signal quality. Materials like wood, synthetic structures, and glass possess low interference potential; however, marble, bricks, concrete, metal, and bulletproof glass have relatively high interference potential.

Therefore, beacons must be placed strategically to avoid any interference in the signal. Place beacons away from walls or any obstruction made of material with high-interference potential.

Consider the specific deployment plan for your beacon and think about how you will maintain it in a productive environment. For instance, if you are planning to launch a beacon project in your business area, have a floor plan ready with selected points of interest. Test the beacon range and decide on the number of beacons you will require for your business site based on your requirements. Also, make a note of the size of the rooms and the material that the walls are made of.

3. Beacons Have Different Platforms/Protocol

iBeacon and Eddystone are the two major protocols created by Apple and Google respectively for Bluetooth beacons to follow. When purchasing a Bluetooth beacon, consider the protocol that will suit your requirements.

Both, iBeacon or Eddystone can be easily detected by iOS or Android devices. However, the format in which the signal is transmitted is different for these two protocols.

Eddystone can transmit URLs directly, but iBeacon transmits a UUID, which is tied to the developers’ server. Thus, a developer can design a mobile application that can detect Bluetooth beacon and take the necessary action.

When a device is in proximity to the Bluetooth beacon using Eddystone, it will be able to understand that an object is broadcasting a URL that can be opened in a browser (Google Chrome).

4. Beacons Transmit Signals, Not Content

When using beacons, you must know what you want to communicate. Beacons aren’t smart and hence, you must know the content to be sent and the location the beacon is placed in.

For instance, you can use beacons to send a marketing/sales message to your potential customers, navigate them through an area, and sense the traffic flow. Since beacons transmit signals, you must code what that signal means in your application.

5. Bluetooth Beacons and WiFi Co-Exist

Both, WiFi and beacons operate in the microwave spectrum of 2.4 GHz but use different modulation and channels within this spectrum. However, they do not interfere with each other as they use the IEEE 802.3 protocol. This protocol determines how they can share their bandwidths without blocking each other.

Therefore, beacons and WiFi can co-exist and offer data on location and tracking of devices.

6. Managing a Network of Beacons Isn’t Easy

Beacons have limited range; therefore, several beacons may be required to cover one desired area. Moreover, low-priced beacons require users to manually adjust the signal strength and check its charge to ensure that they are working properly. For the high-priced ones, the firmware updates and other management tasks required by electronic equipment can be accomplished through WiFi.

Most companies start off with smaller deployments for beacons and achieve promising results. However, larger deployments that cover multiple locations are tough to manage. Lost beacons can be detected only through scanning. Hence, the beacon project must be properly planned before launching.

Beacon marketers offer management services, which are directly connected to the server, making it tough for the user to switch to the other brand in case he/she isn’t satisfied with the service. Businesses are increasingly adopting the latest technological aids to stay ahead of competition.

Beacons are being used at retail stores, restaurants, shopping malls, airports, stadiums, museums, and in several other domains to connect with and engage customers.

The above-mentioned points bring you the relevant information about Bluetooth beacons and will enable you to use this technology to your advantage.

  • If the beacon is used for a niche application and there's a corresponding app to interpret the beacon message then one can certainly deviate from the "standards". My beacon work generates data-varying encrypted advertising messages (no encryption support for advertising messages in BLE4.2) so I don't follow the standards either.

  • Jurica,

    By not following the iBeacon or Eddystone standards there are some mobile-side feature you won't be able to take advantage of. Especially on iOS.

  • Jurica; I think your use case is perfect for a typical beacon :) I guess by signals, the author mean that it doesn't contain much "smartness". As he goes on saying, "Since beacons transmit signals, you must code what that signal means in your application". Your mobile application knows how to interpret and represent the data in the payload, thus making it a useful beacon application.

    Also remember, beacon is not a defined standard, so what you choose to use it for is totally up to you. But from what I have seen, beacons are mostly used for sending out small snippets of information. Be that sensor data, location information or similar.

  • Hi, I have a question/statement to share with you and would like to hear your opinion. In the company I work, we develop different beacon applications. But we do not respect any standard protocol as iBeacon or EddyStone. We simply made our own protocol and apps. For example, one very simple example is the beacon that measures temperature. We packe the temperature data into advertising payload and advertise that data. And we change advertising data every n seconds [we alse have UUID for our device within payload]. On the other side, an android scans for all BLE devices, parse them and takes temperature data from our beacons (based on UUID). According to your definition of a beacon ("Beacons Transmit Signals, Not Content") this is not a beacon.

    What do you think about our approach? Maybe it's weird and misused but works =)

    Thanks. Jurica.

  • WiFi is not a good option as it drains the battery really fast!