Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons are devices you will hear about very frequently, as manufacturers transition to Industry 4.0. Beacons are useful in on-premise indoor navigation, monitoring movement of assets and people and in collecting data to improve security and streamline processes. If you’re still a bit unclear about how the technology works, its features and applicability, let’s put that to rest once and for all. We bring you an in-depth look into BLE beacons.
BLE Beacons are devices that transmit signals at regular intervals, allowing their location to be tracked to a highly-specific degree. They can also be programmed to alert users to specific geographical positions.
BLE Beacons broadcast data at intervals in ‘packets’ which each have a unique ID related to the hardware. It also contains information on the strength of the signal and other data. Think about it as GPS for assets that are indoors – you can keep track of things and use that recorded data to figure out problems, track patterns or plot processes. It’s giving you tangible records of what’s happening on the ground without you having to put in any manual effort.
BLE beacons have several benefits over other indoor tracking technologies. These include:
Lower costs: The cost can be up to 80% cheaper than other competing devices
Lower power consumption: The cost of running is lowered as these beacons use a minimum of 50% less energy than other devices.
Hassle free setup: The technology does not require integration with your IT systems and works independently, without interfering with business.
Versatility: Beacons can function almost anywhere and require small transfers of data, making them a good solution for a variety of industries and work spaces.
There is no pairing needed when using BLE. This, in itself, has two big advantages. First off, it requires less energy. The energy required will be according to factors such as signal strength and frequency but they do consume significantly less energy than other tracking devices. As they consume less energy, beacons also have a longer battery life, which again lowers running and maintenance costs.
Second, the communication is not limited to only one other device. BLE beacons can transmit signals to many receivers or tags and, in turn, receivers can get signal from multiple beacons at once.
The communication is one-way – beacons can only send communication to receivers/tags and cannot accept any data from those tags, unlike in the case of Bluetooth where the communication is possible in both directions.
These are the two most popular communication protocols. iBeacon is from Apple and Eddystone being from Google. Communication protocols refers to the format in which the Bluetooth signals that are being sent out by the BLE beacons.
iBeacon is known for being simple to use. It does not have a wide range of features but it works very well and, when the right hardware is used, is an extremely reliable option. Although made by Apple, the protocol is supported on both operating systems, iOS and Android.
With a feature that houses a value range from 1 to 65,000, you can assign any integer from this range to a beacon, giving it its own ID and thus making it easily identifiable. So it is easy when you need your receivers to identify a Beacon from a crowd of the beacon devices.
While iBeacon is known for its simplicity and ease of use, Eddystone wins for its fine-tuned features – it can send more information than iBeacon. The packets include the ability to identify a beacon just like iBeacon. It can also transmit URLs and other information such as temperature and battery voltage.
In addition to this, the beacon can transmit all packets at one go or staggered at one or two packets per broadcast. Launched after iBeacon, Eddystone is always being adapted and it is likely to have capabilities that allow it to integrate with a range of Google’s other products.
While both communication protocols will get the basic job done, Eddystone does have additional features that could prove useful in certain situations. For example, with both you can identify a beacon by its unique ID. However, Eddystone can additionally broadcast beacon status, which is handy when you have a lot of beacons.
When it comes to single interval and strength, their capabilities are similar and also dependent on the hardware being used. Both systems also have UUID in the packets being broadcast. UUID is a Universal Unique Identifier, a 128-bit number that identifies and differentiates an entity on the Internet, setting it apart from other devices emitting BLE broadcasts. You can set up your UUID in your beacons to be different or the same in your fleet.