A Bluetooth beacon is a small, wireless device that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) technology to advertise its presence and services. Beacons operate by repeatedly broadcasting or advertising a beacon identifier to compatible smartphones or tablets within its proximity. The smartphone or tablet can then use the beacon’s information to determine its location and services, and act accordingly.
Beacons are typically used in one of two scenarios. The first and most common is for a beacon to be placed either in a fixed location or on a movable object, then relying on a smartphone to correlate beacon proximity to a desired behavior such as opening an app or offering contextually-relevant content. The second uses a fixed wireless node to monitor beacons on objects that pass by or through its monitoring area. It then can report back to another application using a wired or wide-area network. These scenarios can be used in a number of applications including asset tracking, mobile engagement, wayfinding, and point-of-sale systems.
Deliver in-application promotions.
Send browser-based advertisements.
Provide relevant localized web content.
Customize menu offers.
Optimize inventory management.
Determine location in real-time.
Eliminate manual scanning.
Bluetooth LE beacons are supported in Bluetooth SIG core version 4.0 and above. They can operate for years on a coin cell battery and are suited for sending small bits of data on an infrequent basis.
LE beacons utilize the 2.4 GHz ISM band and a frequency hopping technique to spread its RF energy between multiple channels, like Bluetooth BR/EDR. But in a departure from Bluetooth BR/EDR, LE beacons use 40 2MHz-wide channels instead of 79 1MHz-wide channels. Three of Bluetooth LE technology’s 40 channels (37, 38, and 39) are reserved for broadcasting advertising packets that contain information about the broadcasting node’s capabilities. These three channels are known as primary advertising channels. With Bluetooth 5 , beacons can use any of the remaining 37 data channels as secondary advertisement channels to broadcast more data and/or offload to the primary channels.
Beacons work by taking advantage of Bluetooth’s ability to broadcast packets with a small amount of customizable embedded data on its advertising channels. A Bluetooth low energy scanner routinely scans for advertising packets and then decodes them to ascertain the content and take appropriate action.
There is no Bluetooth SIG official beaconing standard. All beaconing implementations are pseudo-standards developed by one company or group of companies and adopted by other companies who want to use them.
Beacons enable new business models in everything from vending machines to snow-blowers and weed-eaters. Many OEMs who previously never used wireless technology are now adopting Bluetooth and adding beacons to their products.
Although a beacon can be relatively simple, the designer will need to take into consideration the hardware and software building blocks, trade-offs with battery life, how the beacon will be provisioned or deployed into the field, security and privacy, and of course their vendor’s development tools and support.