Leading businesses in Retail, Entertainment, Hospitality, Transportation, Industrial, and other markets employ beacons to easily and wirelessly supply highly localized and targeted information to SmartPhone users.
In order to offer the best possible user experience, applications have focused on providing only high-value information, delivered responsively within specific places and times. Even so, there are many other factors influencing successful beacon campaigns and solutions for both the customer and the provider.
The majority of beacons are currently powered by batteries. Someday, self-powered (or energy-harvesting) beacons may become widespread, but until that time battery type, patterns of use, and solutions that detect (or predict) battery drain will remain of utmost importance.
Beacon range will vary, can be quite limited. Some smaller (and older) beacons may only cover a small room. Larger beacons may cover multiple rooms (or larger open areas) but require larger batteries, or have a shorter battery life.
Two of the major beacon data formats (iBeaconTM and EddystoneTM) are incompatible. Vendors have worked around this issue in different ways, either providing mobile apps that can understand multiple formats, or using so-called multi-slot beacons to "rotate" transmissions (aka Advertisements) between the different formats. Unfortunately, not all beacons are multi-slot and those supporting it are generally more difficult to configure.
Beacons broadcast at periodic intervals (their transmission rate). To increase battery lifetime, a slower rate may be used. Some applications are relatively insensitive to the rate, but others benefit from using a faster rate (apps are more responsive), making it advantageous to do so.
The data sent by beacons is usually very simple. As such, it is possible to "spoof" a beacon, changing the information sent. A few beacons implement strong security measures to prevent spoofing and other forms of cyber attack.
In many applications, beacon data is set, and never changes. However, there are use cases where data may need to be updated (e.g. museums). In order to avoid replacement, some beacons are configurable. However, configurability often reduces battery lifetime, and may affect the beacon transmit rate (since configuration must be shared with broadcasting).
Beacons are generally maintenance free, except for battery replacement. Although larger batteries can reduce maintenance visits, and disposable beacons can simplify the task, maintenance is still required. Since the time of battery failure is not always predictable, it is useful to periodically monitor beacons for battery condition.
Clearly, a key issue in choosing a beacon solution for any given application is selecting beacons containing enough energy to meet the above challenges. One approach is to use powered beacons. Unlike battery-operated systems, powered beacon lifetime is unlimited. There are no dead-battery outages, maintenance calls, or battery-replacement costs; these savings alone may justify powered beacon use.
Powered beacons offer other advantages:
- Longer range: powered beacons can transmit at higher signal levels, covering a larger area than battery-operated systems; perhape by more than 10X
- Multi-slot advertising: simultaneously supporting both iBeaconTM and EddystoneTM can improve SmartPhone compatibility
- Higher rate: a faster beacon rate can translate into a more responsive use experience
- Management: configuration can be supported without affecting beacon lifetime
Powered beacons are typically connected with USB, either directly to USB devices or via an inexpensive USB-power socket plug. USB beacon costs are highly competitive with battery-operated versions. Some powered beacons are attached to beacon gateways, integrating configuration, monitoring, and management functions together with remote network operations.
Understanding the requirements and options for beacon applications and services can help to quickly identify the best beacon products for the task, improving results and creating tangible, quantifiable, and immediate value.
If you have any questions about beacons or your application, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org