IoT beacon technology literally means radio beacon, similar to the light of a lighthouse. In the original sense, it is a mobile or fixed radio station that is used in navigation, for example in aviation or shipping. The radio beacon emits radio waves that can be used to determine positions. In the IT environment, beacons are used in various areas. Beacons can be small Bluetooth transmitters, status messages in a WLAN, or tracking pixel in a message or on a website, and much more.
Apple’s iBeacon and other solutions
A well-known implementation of the Bluetooth beacon is Apple’s iBeacon. It is a manufacturer-specific protocol based on Bluetooth Low Energy introduced in 2013. From the iOS 7 operating system, Apple devices such as the iPhone or the iPad support iBeacon.
iBeacons generally do not send push notifications to receiving devices. They do not collect or save data but send information about their own identity or status. Thanks to the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the devices work extremely energy-saving. iBeacon modules achieve ranges of up to 30 meters and are used, for example, in smartwatches or gaming pads.
Another IoT beacon technology implementation is Eddystone from Google. Eddystone supports both Android and iOS devices. Radius Networks offers an alternative open standard called AltBeacons.
The web beacon is a tracking pixel for websites or emails
IoT beacon technology is also used outside of wireless radio technologies. The web beacon is an alternative term for a tracking pixel. It is a small invisible graphic on a website or in an email.
The web beacon is often only the minimum size of 1 x 1 pixel. With the help of these pixels, it is possible to check whether an email was opened or a website was accessed. As soon as the tracking pixel is called up and loaded from a server, a service registers this event. It is not apparent to the user himself that the pixel has been requested. The process is invisible to him in the background. However, the operator of the server can see how often and how many users request a particular web beacon. The following functions can be implemented using web beacon:
• Creation of a movement profile of a visitor on a website
• Determining the operating system, the browser version and other properties of the end device of a website visitor or email recipient
• Determine the IP address of a website visitor or e-mail recipient
• Determine the approximate location of the website visitor or e-mail recipient via his IP address
• Determine the opening rate and time of opening of email
The function of an IoT beacon technology in WLAN
In a WLAN, a router or an access point sends a small data packet called Beacon at regular intervals. This package is a type of status message that contains information about the network name (Service Set Identifier; SSID), possible transmission rates, and the type of encryption used. The Beacon enables clients to easily establish a connection with the WLAN access point. You only need some additional information such as the password. The reception quality of a WLAN can also be monitored using the beacon.
But beacons can also have other functions. In the IT environment, beacons are also often used in various areas. It can be short, regularly sent data packets in a WLAN, small, Bluetooth-based transmitters, or tracking pixels in a message or on a website and much more. Apple has also developed a proprietary technology called iBeacon.
Some payment services use beacons to implement automatic payments without touching the cash register. IoT beacon technology plays an important role in the Internet of Things (IoT). With the help of radio technology, networked objects can exchange information with each other. Beacons have great potential, particularly in the area of industrial production and Industry 4.0. The technology can be used to identify workpieces, machines, or people and intelligently network production processes. Mobile applications and tablets or smartphones can be used to control and monitor the processes.
How do you configure beacons and how do you best install them?
There are now four beacon standards: iBeacon from Apple, Google’s Eddystone, UriBeacon, and Altbeacon. iBeacons still make up the lion’s share, but Eddystone is steadily gaining market share due to its interesting properties. In today’s blog article, we deal with the question of what settings can be influenced by iBeacons and how best to attach beacons in general to the location.
Report on the distribution of beacon protocols
The signals from beacons can be shielded by various materials. These can be wooden, concrete, or metal walls, for example. This must also be taken into account when installing on pillars in the room. The best place for beacons is around 2.5 to 4 meters in height. At a lower altitude, people can shield the signals. Favorable places are on walls in the building and on beams on the ceiling. A good alternative can also be mounted in lamp holders, as these are evenly distributed throughout the building and can supply the beacon with electricity. It is important that there are as far as possible no interfering objects between the transmitters.
We are often asked by customers whether beacons cause interference in radio networks or technical devices and whether, conversely, beacon signals can be falsified by them. We can give the all-clear for the first case. Beacons do not affect other signals and medical devices also remain undisturbed. However, if beacons are installed in a room with a large number of WiFi signals (for example at a trade fair), interference can occur because BLE and WiFi share the same frequency range (2.4 GHz).
3. CONFIGURATION OF IBEACON
iBeacons carry a number of key figures and have several configuration options. This data can be viewed and edited using a smartphone app or software from the manufacturer.
UUID: the UUID generally transmits the beacon’s membership to an upper group (e.g. “belongs to airport XY”). All beacons from this operator have the same UUID and can thus be assigned.
Major: This indicates which group several beacons belong to. For example, this could be all beacons in Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport. The purpose of use can also be differentiated, for example, “position determination cars” and “navigation for sellers” in a car dealership.
Minor: Identifies individual beacons whose exact position is recorded on a digital map.
TX Power is the signal strength measured in a calibration process one meter from the beacon (RSSI value – received signal strength indication). It is determined and entered permanently. The set transmission power can influence the accuracy of the position determination. Higher signal strength means higher energy consumption. TX Power is measured in dBm. Decibels milliwatt (dBm) is the power level in decibels based on 1mW. High transmission power is for example -59 dBm, whereas -81 dBm is rather low.
Transmission interval: The transmission interval specifies the time intervals (e.g. 1000 milliseconds) the beacon sends out signals. The same applies here: the higher the transmission interval, the higher the energy consumption (double transmission frequency approx. Double energy consumption). But it also means that the position can be determined faster and more up-to-date.
How can you use iBeacons and IoT beacon technology in the house?
An iPhone that thinks for itself: As soon as you sit down at your desk, the Safari browser opens; when you open the refrigerator in the kitchen, the list of purchases pops up that is still to be done today and in the evening when you are comfortable Sofa sets, the remote app for operating Apple TV starts immediately.
This is possible with so-called iBeacons. The word “iBeacons” is an Apple creation and was first mentioned at WWDC in June 2013. Basically, it means small hardware buttons that support Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth 4.0). These beacons send information to the mobile device via Bluetooth. However, these beacons do not work alone, they require an appropriate app that supports iBeacon technology and IoT beacon technology. MOKOSmart showed it a few weeks ago: For those who had downloaded the MOKOBeacon app, news and information about jobs and careers appeared regularly on the iPhone display as soon as the user was at the relevant hotspots in the exhibition halls.
iBeacons versus NFC
It works similarly with NFC. This technology was used at the Mobile World Congress. iOS devices, however, don’t support NFC and it doesn’t look like Apple will change anything anytime soon. Those who visit technology fairs more often can hardly deny it: accessory manufacturers are increasingly relying on Bluetooth 4.0, while NFC is falling behind. NFC has the edge in mobile payments. But unlike NFC, iBeacons are able to provide a complete room with its own “network”. When the customer enters a shop, their smartphone app informs them about current special offers. Another advantage is that iBeacons consume very little electricity. If you believe some manufacturers, the battery should last up to two years.
iBeacons for at home
In December 2013, Apple equipped 254 Apple stores in the USA with iBeacons, but in Germany that is still a long way off. There are already some providers who sell iBeacons and with Placed there is also an app with which you can even use iBeacons at home. The prerequisite is that your iOS devices support Bluetooth 4.0. This is only the case from the iPhone 4S. The iPad 4, iPad Air, and iPad Mini with and without retina display support this standard for tablets. You must also allow the relevant apps to access location services.
If you now place an appropriate iBeacon on the sofa, refrigerator, or desk, certain actions will be triggered as soon as you are within a radius of one meter from the relevant object. Placed supports apps such as MOKOBeacon, Remote, the Timer, Wunderlist (to-do lists and task app), Safari, and the Fantastical calendar app. After you have attached the iBeacon to the piece of furniture, set its UUID or insert the UUID that you got from the iBeacon manufacturer. Then you define the apps or URLs that should be active in the vicinity of this iBeacon. For example, the remote app for Apple TV starts automatically when you are at the iBeacon that is attached to your sofa.
You can also develop your own apps that work with the corresponding iBeacon. MOKOSmart provides IoT beacon technology and beacon SDK.