Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons Guide: What is Bluetooth Beacon
Bluetooth beacon technology is rapidly evolving to provide a variety of “proximity-aware applications” for consumer, enterprise and industrial environments. For example, consumers can obtain coupons that can be redeemed immediately according to their location (shopping malls, restaurants, etc.), as well as a variety of tailor-made products and services; enterprises can improve product quality by grasping consumers’ shopping habits. Visibility and profit from it, thereby strengthening consumer brand loyalty; manufacturers will benefit from specific improvements in asset management.
The Bluetooth Beacon standard is not a standard formulated by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG).There are three key virtual standards on the market today
- Apple’s iBeacon;
- Google’s Eddystone;
- AltBeacon by Radius Network
All three of the above virtual standards use a Bluetooth Low Energy broadcast method, placing broadcast packets on Bluetooth Low Energy channels 37, 38 and 39 to avoid interference with Wi-Fi on the 2.4 GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) license-exempt band Fi traffic conflict.
In addition, by embedding its format and data in the structure of the virtual standard using BLE broadcast, whenever a Beacon device sends a broadcast, the same packet will be sent on the three broadcast channels immediately, enabling BLE reception the scanner/scanner to receive the signal. Once the signal is received, the scanner will determine whether the packet content can be decoded and its relevance, and then take corresponding action.
Within a broadcast packet, the data payload structure is one or more of the form [length, type, data]
- The length part defines the type of the following type and data combination
- Type determines whether the data is a name, service UUID, URI, or one of several defined types, and
- Data packets take the Beacon structure one step further by defining substructures within the data to define different virtual standards.
Broadcast packets and data packets use the same format. Beacon follows the standard broadcast packet format, but includes a data payload embedded with one or more virtual standards.
Apple’s iBeacon was an early Beacon adopter. iBeacon is a trademark of Apple, and suppliers who want to sell iBeacon products or use the iBeacon symbol must obtain permission from Apple. The iBeacon specification and other development resources can be downloaded from Apple DeveloperThe total length of each iBeacon packet is 30 bytes (Byte), which must be broadcast at 100ms intervals (although iBeacon OEMs do not always strictly follow the 100ms requirement). iOS applications using the Core Location framework can use iOS to continuously monitor events passing through the Beacon area, eg, entering or leaving the iBeacon proximity area depending on UUID, primary and secondary segments. iOS monitoring depends on whether the app is running or not, and can even cause closed apps to start running. The monitoring function only works when the user starts the location service in the application.
Eddystone is an open source, cross-platform Google beacon format. It supports Android and iOS devices. Unlike other beacon standards, it defines several different frame types, which can be used independently or in combination:
- Eddystone-UID can broadcast a unique BeaconID
- Eddystone-URL broadcast URLs
- Eddystone-TLM can be used to broadcast telemetry (health and status) data about the Beacon itself, and
- Eddystone-EID uses ephemeral identities for Beacon applications that require stronger security. The specification for this structure format has not been published.
The Eddystone-URL structure enables mobile platforms to provide web content based on proximity without requiring an app to be installed, enabling Google’s “The Physical Web” initiative or the “ability to walk up and use anything” web. Eddystone already has Chrome support for iOS and will provide Chrome support for Android starting with version 49. With the Chrome Today tool, users will be able to access web content around them and be notified when a beacon is encountered.The Google Eddystone GitHub page provides the Eddystone protocol specification, tools, and open source examples, and the Google Developers forum provides more information on the Google Beacon platform.
The Radius Network defines the AltBeacon specification for the purpose of creating OS-agnostic, open source standards that will not respond to specific vendor requirements. This specification can be found on the AltBeacon website without any licensing or certification fees. Just like other beacons, it uses connectionless, indirect broadcast packets.