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Beacons

The way people interact and shop has changed dramatically over the last decade with the explosion of online retailers and daily deal websites: and now it is enjoying its latest revolution in the form of iBeacon technology.


Pioneered by Apple as a “new class of low-powered, low cost transmitters that can notify iOS 7 devices of their presence”, the technology offers location-based services and information for iPhones and other devices compatible with iOS. However, this isn’t limited to Apple owners alone: because iBeacon for Android is also within the capabilities of the technology.

This technology standard, allows Mobile Apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world and react accordingly. In essence, iBeacon technology allows Mobile Apps to understand their position on a micro-local scale, and deliver hyper-contextual content to users based on location. The underlying communication technology is Bluetooth Low Energy.

What is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)?

Bluetooth Low Energy is a wireless personal area network technology used for transmitting data over short distances. As the name implies, it’s designed for low energy consumption and cost, while maintaining a communication range similar to that of its predecessor, Classic Bluetooth. It is compatible with any newer phone (e.g. iPhone 4S+, SG3+) or a Bluetooth 4 laptop (e.g. Retina MacBook), you can turn any of these devices into an iBeacon transmitter and receiver and later android powered devices.

How is BLE different from Regular Bluetooth?

  • Power Consumption: Bluetooth LE, as the name hints, has low energy requirements. It can last up to 3 years on a single coin cell battery.
  • Lower Cost: BLE is 60-80% cheaper than traditional Bluetooth.
  • Application: BLE is ideal for simple applications requiring small periodic transfers of data. Classic Bluetooth is preferred for more complex applications requiring consistent communication and more data throughput.
  • ble comparison

    How does BLE communication work?

    BLE communication consists primarily of “Advertisements”, or small packets of data, broadcast at a regular interval by Beacons or other BLE enabled devices via radio waves. BLE Advertising is a one-way communication method. Beacons that want to be “discovered” can broadcast, or “Advertise” self-contained packets of data in set intervals. These packets are meant to be collected by devices like smartphones, where they can be used for a variety of smartphone applications to trigger things like push messages, app actions, and prompts.

    Apple’s iBeacon standard calls for an optimal broadcast interval of 100 ms. Broadcasting more frequently uses more battery life but allows for quicker discovery by smartphones and other listening devices. Standard BLE has a broadcast range of up to 100 meters, which make Beacons ideal for indoor location tracking and awareness.

    Why is iBeacon a Big Deal?

    With a Beacon network, any brand, Venue, retailer, app, or platform will be able to understand exactly where a customer is in the brick and mortar environment. This provides an opportunity to send customers highly contextual, hyper-local, meaningful messages and advertisements on their smartphones.

    The typical scenario looks like this. A consumer carrying a smartphone walks into a store. Apps installed on a consumer’s smartphone listen for iBeacons. When an app hears an iBeacon, it communicates the relevant data (UUID, Major, Minor, Tx) to its server, which then triggers an action. This could be something as simple as a push message [“Welcome to Target! Check out Doritos on Aisle 3!”], and could include other things like targeted advertisements, special offers, and helpful reminders [“You’re out of Milk!”]. Other potential applications include mobile payments and shopper analytics and implementation outside of retail, at airports, concert venues, theme parks, and more. The potential is limitless.

    This technology should bring about a paradigm shift in the way brands communicate with consumers. Beacon provides a digital extension into the physical world. We’re excited to see where iBeacon technology goes in the next few years.