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Beacons – Advent of New Generation Communication

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A beacon, by definition, is a purposefully striking device designed to attract attention to a specific location. However, in modern days it is termed as Beacon because it is an electronic device with small size and low energy consumption. Mostly, modern Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technologies or iBeacons as they are fondly called, in real life. This Beacon device can be setup anywhere as it has self-contained power source to run for long durations. Additionally, Beacon transmitter has BLE chipsets embedded along with a power source making fit for multiple forms of hardware assemblies such as USB dongles, computers, cell phones, or independent forms of small coin cell powered gadgets.

Mode of Functions of Beacons

Creating a collaborative network using Beacons we need essentially two devices – one transmitter with its own Unique User Identification Number (UUID) and one receiving device equipped with software that can identify the user device through UUID. The transmitter devices with UUID do not transmit anything other than its own identity related data through GATT (Generic Attribute Profile) services, thus making it the communication fast and accurate.

Therefore, assuming that Beacon device or button would help you to track the user is a misconception unless you have Beacons in your cell phone/smartphone and that is GPS enable with its own system for location data transmissions. In short, the software on receiving devices can approximate the distance from the Beacon device and use triangulation techniques to spot a location of its own (receiving device) through trigonometric calculations. Hence, the transmitter devices are more often stationary and the receiving devices are mobile devices with advanced software to read and report the proximity of the transmitter devices.

This distance between receiver and transmitter can be categorized into three ranges:

  • Immediate: Within a few inches
  • Near: Within a couple of meters
  • Far: Greater than 10 meters away

Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) is also used to measure the presence of barriers and get an approximate distance though, with weak signals. This indirectly is indicating the limitations of the Beacons where accurate distance measurement is not possible due to the placement of devices and various barriers affecting the strength of the signal, hence errors in distance calculations.

Understanding Beacon Applications

The battery life of Beacons depends inversely on the frequency of transmission, which is directly proportional to the range of the Beacon’s transmission. Thus, this simple equation translates into the battery needed to power these devices – the more distance you wish to cover, the more power you need. The power of the Beacon devices can be configured as High or Low in their settings for extracting high power or low power respectively from. This High & Low Value setting can be done by device specific methods and only experienced developers can do it.

Another advantage of such High-Low value setting is that you can draw an imaginative circle (Geo-Fencing) and include devices using the appropriate values in setting so you can save power and cluttering of devices by omitting long-range devices out of your circle. Today Geo-Fencing is a buzzword in mobile software development industry as it can be implemented through satellites on a large scale as well as in small or sizable areas using Beacons. The smartest way to do multiple Beacon deployment in a venue is to share the same UUID and leverage the benefits of major and minor value setting by pairing these settings in order to create segments and distinguish subspaces within the same venue. Geo-Fencing can be done using UUID as well as RSSI techniques.

However, you can’t do all settings manually on each Beacon device or button, but you have to take the help of an automated system to remotely manage a network of Beacons on a large scale. Beacon deployments in large areas such as shopping malls, museums, stadiums, airports, railway terminals, etc. Can you get constant signals from the devices as they are acting as active Beacon transmitters, consuming low energy from their batteries.

Potential Use of Beacons

There are many potential areas where Beacon technologies can make remarkable impacts such as:

  • Museums: You can provide contextual information to the visitors, offer self-guided tours with personalized experiences, and offer distinct educational excursions to a big mass like school/college students visiting museums.
  • Hotels: There are plenty of areas in tourism or hotel industry to use Beacons like check-in, finding the room and indoor navigation, Analytics & Customer Insights, Staff Productivity, offer a keyless entry into rooms, etc.
  • Sports Stadiums: sports events taking place in various sport stadiums where we use Beacons for seat finding and seat upgrades, in loyalty programs, to sell merchandise, etc.
  • Shopping Malls: in order to find directions, to do window-shopping, for personalized service, and for payments like auto check-in.
  • Events: Super-fast check-in with Geo fencing using Sun Pass or highway toll system, Remote food ordering and delivery through where a waiter can locate you.

Moreover, the usages in home automation, locating valuables or kids, etc. are more possible areas where Beacons can be used. Thus, Beacons are increasingly becoming popular in real world applications for fast and accurate communications.

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