What’s BLE beaconHere’s your primer to get started understanding iBeacon & Eddystone,
their histories, and what makes them each uniquely cool.
A beacon is a small device that transmits a Bluetooth signal at regular intervals. This signal is broadcast in a certain format, a communication protocol that describes the string of characters and numbers that make up the signal. The two most common protocols that beacons use are iBeacon and Eddystone—and SATECH supports both! However, despite being incredibly similar (in that they both power beacon technology) the two standards are also fundamentally different. Much like Google and Apple, they fill different spaces in the market and, really, aren’t fundamentally interchangeable. They’re both being great tools. Here’s what you need to know about them.
What is iBeacon?The history behind the beacon’s initiatory protocol.
In short: The iBeacon profile is the first, and currently most commonly discussed, communication protocol around. It is not a physical hardware but rather the language used to power the physical “beacon” technology we picture. Developed by Apple, it is natively supported in iOS and has deep integrations with the mobile OS. Although the iBeacon profile works on other mobile operating systems, it works best in the environment for which it was designed: iPhones and iPads.
How does iBeacon work?In short: A beacon using an iBeacon profile contains a combination of letters and numbers, broken up into specific groups. Each code is unique for every beacon, and a mobile application will only take action when it recognizes the data related to that beacon. Once a beacon is detected by an application, some kind of action is triggered: a push alert to the home screen, a prompt to log something into the phone, connect to a server, and so on.
iBeacon’s signal contains three main pieces of information.
Unique Universal Identifier (UUID): the beacon’s most general information. For example, this beacon belongs to this person.
Major: the beacon’s most general spatial information. For example, this beacon is located in store #8.
Minor: a more minute piece of information. For example, this is the beacon in aisle 2.
Read more on packets and IDs here.
What is Eddystone?The history behind the open protocol.
The Eddystone format is a new and open communication protocol developed by Google with Android users in mind.
We often compare beacons to a lighthouse; they’re just simple objects constantly sending out a signal. Perhaps that’s the reason Google named their beacon format after the Eddystone Lighthouse in the UK. More importantly, though strikingly similar to iBeacon, it is distinctly Google (or, at least, non-Apple). The protocol is now known for being “open,” created with the input and collaboration of several companies. Instead of being created to power highly specific user-facing apps, its key qualities are interoperability and long-term strength.
This is made clear in its relation and importance to the Physical Web. The Physical Web is more like the overarching idea we have about wireless connectivity. It’s a form the IoT could take—making the digital and physical work together through beacons.
In the end, though the two formats are often mixed up, they represent pretty different ways of using the IoT.
How does Eddystone work?Much of how Eddystone works is the same as iBeacon. But there’s extended functionality beyond that. Eddystone exists as four different frames: Eddystone-UID, Eddystone-URL, Eddystone-TLM, and Eddystone-EID. The UID works more or less exactly as iBeacon does: it broadcasts a short code at a regular interval. Eddystone-URL broadcasts a URL that can be viewed by anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone whether they have your app installed or not, and Eddystone-TLM broadcasts some telemetry data about any attached sensors and the status of the beacon itself. This could easily be used to power data collection or triggers. In short, an Eddystone beacon does nearly everything iBeacon does with some added features.
Any SATECH beacon can broadcast both Eddystone and iBeacon formats interchangeably using our packet interleaving feature.
Eddystone sends 4 packets:
Unique ID (UID) is a unique static ID (similar to the UUID, Majors, and Minors) with two parts: Namespace and Instance.
URL includes a compressed URL that can be directly used by the end-user (think Physical Web!).
TLM is another packet not found in iBeacon. It contains telemetry data that’s great for fleet management purposes.
EID is an added security measure similar to Eddystone Shuffling.
What are the key features of a beacon?Battery life: Most beacons start with an 18-24 month battery life. However, some beacons with certain requirements and uses last some 6-8 months. Beacons with energy-saving capabilities can last over 5 years.
How can beacons last so long with such tiny batteries? Easy! They don’t actually work that hard. They let Bluetooth do all the work, and Bluetooth is incredibly energy efficient.
Supported format: Does your beacon use the iBeacon protocol? Eddystone? Beacons usually support both of these and sometimes the hardware manufacturer’s own format (like AltBeacon).
Interval: How often can the beacon transmit its message? How often you need your beacon to transmit depends on your specific scenario. (ms=millisecond)
Tx Power: The Transmission Power describes how far a beacon can transmit data. This can be as little as 4 meters, but many reach some 50-90 meters. However, it is not necessary that this number be humongous. A 50-meter range beacon can be just as useful as a 90-meter depending on the specific use.
Packets: A beacon’s “packet” is the data it transmits. This just describes the kind of information it is able to transmit. For example, iBeacon contains one packet (iBeacon itself) while Eddystone has three separate ones. SATECH beacons have 7 packets: iBeacon, UID, URL,TLM, Info, Accelerometer and T&H.
Sensors: Now, beacons are coming out with extra capabilities. They may include accelerometers, light or temperature & humidity sensors.
NFC / RFID: Beacons are still very new. For some users, it’s highly important that legacy technologies (like NFC and RFID tags) and beacons work together.