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Beacon is a technology based on the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmission principle. It allows automated and low-consumption communication between transmitters (so-called beacons) and receivers (for example, smartphones, tablets or smartwatches), so that the relevant content can be consulted and made available by the receiver based on their local geological data. The application scenarios are cell phone purchase, geolocation-based marketing and Bluetooth marketing, as well as various apps in the fields of mixed reality and augmented reality.

General information

BLE technology was introduced by Nokia in 2006. To transmit power in one direction (that of the receiver), BLE technology uses much less power than conventional Bluetooth devices. A beacon is usually equipped with a battery that guarantees its operation for about three years.

The reason Beacon became accessible to the general public relatively quickly was thanks to Apple. The company unveiled its proprietary iBeacon framework in 2013, and brought it to market through a licensing procedure. Manufacturers and developers who want to use Beacon technology must first request a license from Apple and then can use the SDK (Software Development Kit) and various APIs and program libraries to design custom use cases and provide users with information at the point of interest. Devices with newer operating systems generally support Beacon technology.

Operating principle

Beacon technology is based on relatively small transmitters that transmit Bluetooth signals at regular intervals in your environment. They are not designed as receivers, but merely act as a boost for receiving device. The beacons remain passive and only send the data necessary for identification and location. Signals sent at short intervals create a signal region.

Beacons transmit three states of information:

  • A Universal Unique Identifier (UUID), is used to send unique information to a distributed system made up of various components. Each Beacon has its own UUID. The string of numbers and letters is 16 bytes in size.
  • The larger value has the function of defining signal regions or use cases.
  • The smaller value can be used to set other subregions or use cases. For example, individual departments within a signage region, such as clothing, shoes, or household posts.

The Major and Minor values are 2 bytes each. A cell phone application is installed on the end device that processes these signals. The app identifies the signal transmitter (s) and measures the distances between the transmitters and receivers in the room. At least four beacons must be installed to be accurate enough in three-dimensional space.

Especially powerful beacons can transmit their signals up to a distance of 450 meters. However, signal lights are sensitive to obstacles such as people, walls or furniture - the range is reduced in these cases.

As soon as the relatively precise positions have been determined by the receiving devices, a subsequent procedure can be initiated. For example, starting an application for mobile phone payment apps or delivering relevant content to a specific geopoint in the store to offer customers suitable products. In addition, push messages or social media apps are possible. The tasks or processes that are started by means of the sender-receiver communication depend on the corresponding use case.

Practical use

A selection of possible use cases:

  • Mobile shopping: In stores, product information can be displayed in different departments, for example to offer users suitable clothing if they are interested in a certain item of clothing. Users can also be guided through various offers in the portfolio
  • Cell phone payment: At the point of sale, users can make cashless payments with very little interaction. All they have to do is be near a terminal with the end device.
  • Navigation: In various buildings, such as museums, bidding centers, public organizations, railway stations, airports, or sports stadiums, Beacons can help navigate the buildings.
  • Context relevant content: Depending on the application scenario, Beacons and a receiving device can be used to display certain relevant content, which can also be linked to the purchase of a cell phone, navigation or home automation.

In practice, developers must ensure that data transferred from the beacon is not directly visible to hackers or competitors. So-called spoofing can be ensured in various ways to prevent the Beacon-Use-Case from being basically copied by competitors.

Importance for programming

It is very possible that Beacons are only an intermediate step in the development procedure and can be replaced by Smart Objects, Internet of Things or Augmented Reality apps.

Nonetheless, Beacons are excellent for use in specific use cases, such as navigation or context-relevant content, due to their energy and cost characteristics. At the same time, Beacons offer different possibilities to measure consumer usage and buying behavior. You can observe the monitoring in the store, the monitoring of customer journeys or the interaction in different channels to make a personalized approach to the customer and better know the users. The deciding factor is, however, the willingness of users to release their data through the use of appropriate apps and consents. If the data is only used for commercial promotion and sales, this will not be too high.