What is iBeacon?

The term iBeacon and Beacon are often used interchangeably. iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard, which 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.

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.

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.

How does iBeacon use BLE communication?

With iBeacon, Apple has standardized the format for BLE Advertising. Under this format, an advertising packet consists of four main pieces of information.

UUID: This is a 16 byte string used to differentiate a large group of related beacons. For example, if Coca-Cola maintained a network of beacons in a chain of grocery stores, all Coca-Cola beacons would share the same UUID. This allows Coca-Cola’s dedicated smartphone app to know which beacon advertisements come from Coca-Cola-owned beacons.

Major: This is a 2 byte string used to distinguish a smaller subset of beacons within the larger group. For example, if Coca-Cola had four beacons in a particular grocery store, all four would have the same Major. This allows Coca-Cola to know exactly which store its customer is in.

Minor: This is a 2 byte string meant to identify individual beacons. Keeping with the Coca-Cola example, a beacon at the front of the store would have its own unique Minor. This allows Coca-Cola’s dedicated app to know exactly where the customer is in the store.

Tx Power: This is used to determine proximity (distance) from the beacon. How does this work? TX power is defined as the strength of the signal exactly 1 meter from the device. This has to be calibrated and hardcoded in advance. Devices can then use this as a baseline to give a rough distance estimate.


A beacon broadcasts the following packet

UUID: 12345678910245

Major: 22

Minor: 2

A device receiving this packet would understand it’s from the Coca-Cola Beacon (UUID) in the Target on 1st Street (Major) at the front of the store (Minor).

Ok, so what can these iBeacons do, really?

Funny you should ask. The real questions is what can't they do now and what can't they do in the near future!

Resources Tracking

Restaurants all over the world have shown us how useful mobile technologies are: PDA-equipped waitresses don’t have to rush to the kitchen in order to dispatch orders. In other cases, clients can directly make them using a tablet available at the table.

With pre-beacon technology, mobile apps running on waiters’ PDAs require the user to select the table number every time he or she takes an order. With beacons, the app automatically knows which table the waiter is at. It displays the name of the client (and eventual dinning/preferences history), and automatically associates the order being made to the table in context, without requiring the waiter to manually select the table number.

Classroom & Education

The iBeacon platform offers a wide range or applications that can be applied on an educational context. From simple games that require students to move around, explore and find things to more scientifc or technical experiments in the classroom, iBeacon is a great tool to stimulate young minds and drive curiosity towards subjects like geography, context, automation, logic and technology.

The Zoo App

Imagine a Zoo mobile app, which visitors open once they get into the park. When they are close to selected attractions, the app fires a notification/image/video with information of what is being looked at. It can tell visitors: “Give some peanuts to the monkey now and watch your arm disappear in 1 second”

Smart Sushi

You've probably seen sushi joints that use conveyor belts to move sushi in front of you. Now, imagine if each of those plates have a small sensor sticked under them. With the restaurant's app opened, hugry customers can see detailed information about what's in front of them, including price, nutrition information, ingredients, origin of the fish and much more. By clicking a 'I got it' button, patrons can also keep track of their current bill without worrying about dish color codes normally used in conveyor belts joints.

Retail Shop Experience

Clients can receive instant and limited offers as they walk inside the store or grocery shop. The store app can even trigger remote events, such as blinking lights inside a fridge to get the person’s attention when he/she walks close.

Loyalty Programs

NFC technology does not offer the range of possibilities that Bluetooth does and iBeacons can be used to do something very similar to what NFC does. When adjusted to be ranged within very short distances, iBeacons can be deployed to allow communication between stationary beacons and loyalty program apps. In a more advanced scenario, both the app and the stationary sensor can perform passive (listener) and active (broadcaster) actions, allowing short-range, two-way communication between the app and the iBeacon sensor.

Already work within one of the applications of iBeacons? Have an idea for a new use? Let's talk! Mobecan supports custom development!

Source: Nerdery