What Is Beacon Technology And How To Use It In Your App

What Is Beacon Technology?

It is enough to recall a lighthouse to understand how the Beacon technology works. In both cases, the devices act as sources that generate signals. The lighthouse sheds light, and the beacon transmits radio waves. Thus, a beacon is a small radio transmitter that broadcasts data over short distances via Bluetooth.

  1. the app contacts the server
  2. the app finds the broadcasting beacon’s ID
  3. next, it reads the ID-related content
  4. finally, it shows the relevant information to the user
How beacon technology works

Main Beacon Protocols

Beacons transmit data through different protocols — a set of rules that defines data exchange between various programs. When we talk about protocols, it is important not to confuse them with physical devices. One device, that is, one beacon, can send data through different protocols — this depends on the manufacturer. For the beacon app developer, it is the protocol that matters. Its choice is usually determined by the mobile platform — iOS or Android. Let’s take a closer look at the main beacon standards and find out how they differ.

iBeacon

iBeacon was the first standard introduced by Apple in 2013. Its primary purpose was retail and marketing apps as well as local indoor positioning. The iBeacon protocol broadcasts one type of advertisement packet, which consists of:

  • UUID — 16-byte unique identifier for the beacon group;
  • Major — 2-byte unsigned value;
  • Minor — 2-byte unsigned value;
  • Measured Power — signal level value at 1m from the transmitter.
  • lack of native support on Android
  • only one type of advertisement packet
iBeacon frame

AltBeacon

AltBeacon is another beacon standard presented by the RadiusNetwork consortium. It is an open-source protocol not tied to any specific platform. AltBeacon has almost the same functionality as iBeacon but with broader transmission capabilities that send a little more information. AltBeacon advertisement packet consists of:

  • MFG ID — 2-byte device manufacturer ID;
  • LIGHTHOUSE CODE — 2-byte promotional package code;
  • BEACON ID — 20-byte unique device identifier;
  • MFG RSVD — 1-byte special reserved field (mainly used for assigned Bluetooth numbers).
  • the same as of iBeacon ones, because this is essentially its open-source analog
AltBeacon frame

Eddystone

Eddystone is a beacon standard introduced by Google. It defines BLE messages’ format and repeats all the features of two previous protocols but with bigger opportunities. The purpose of Eddystone is to give more flexibility and remove the limitations of iBeacon and AltBeacon. Unlike them, it can send three types of packets:

  • UID — a 16-byte device identifier that consists of a 10-byte namespaceID and a 6-byte instanceID.
  • URL — transmits URL using compressed encoding format. A URL of any length can be shortened using the Google URL Shortener to fit the 18-byte advertisement packet. Once decoded, the URL can be used by any client with Internet access. For example, if the beacon broadcasts the URL: https://goo.gl/Aq18zF, any user who received this package through the app can visit that URL (https://goo.gl/Aq18zF).
  • TLM — telemetry sends data types such as battery voltage, device temperature, and the number of packets sent.
  • limited support on iOS
  • Bluetooth LE support starting from Android v. 4.3
Eddystone frame

How To Develop Beacon App?

To create a beacon app, you need to either purchase beacons or use someone else’s. The choice depends on your app’s nature. Let’s take a closer look at each case.

1.Purchase and install your own beacons

Imagine you are a large retailer looking to reach more customers with an eCommerce app. For a better UX, you install beacons in your offline stores. When a user walks past these stores, they receive alerts about promotions and personal discounts. It is very convenient because the notification arrives at the right time and in the right place. The user is two steps away from an attractive offer, so it doesn’t cost them anything to enter the store and find out more.

2.Use third-party beacons

Say you want to create an app to catch the beacons’ signal and invite users to follow the link received in the notification. This option is only possible with the Eddystones and their URL packages. The use case is suitable for travel apps: when the user walks past an architecture object, they can learn more about it by clicking the link in a pop-up message. As the software owner, you do not need to spend money buying and installing beacons but code the app to catch Eddystone’s URL packet. In this case, the user’s phone receives not a beacon ID but a direct message with a link.

Beacon Technology Use Cases

Beacons bring benefits to diverse business areas: tourism, logistics, sports events, medical services, etc. However, its greatest potential is in retail. According to the Google survey, 82% of smartphone users use their gadgets while in a store to make purchasing decisions. And here, the beacons are second to none. Anyhow, here are some use cases for your inspiration:

Enhance UX With Beacon Technology

While beacon technology is not another “big thing” in the tech world, it gives a good chance to grow customer loyalty and engage clients. Beacons are of particular value for those who run business both offline and online. They strengthen your marketing strategy and diversify the user experience with handy features and useful tips. If you need more information about beacon app development, please contact our managers. They will provide you with in-depth information based on your project specifics.

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