iBeacon is Apple’s version of Bluetooth-based technology, a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 or 8 devices of their presence, which allows Bluetooth devices broadcast and receive small amount information within short distances. In simple words, it consists of two parts: a broadcaster and a receiver. The broadcaster is always advertising or broadcasting packets to notify other devices about its presence, while the receiver detects these beacons and do whatever it needs to do based on how close or far it is from them.
Broadcaster: Beacon device works as an Advertiser or Broadcaster
Receiver: iBeacon Smartphone app works as a receiver
The underlying technology (BLE) was created by Nokia, and the concept of “beacons” is universal to all hardware compatible with Bluetooth Smart/BLE that is available under the Bluetooth 4.0 specification. “iBeacon” was introduced by Apple’s iOS as the first platform to bring the technology to the masses.
Think of iBeacon as a small lighthouse. Normally, an iOS app is the observer, while the broadcaster/transmitter can be one of the popular beacon devices available on the market, a USB Bluetooth dongle, a computer with Bluetooth Low Energy-compatible adapter, an iPad or an iPhone. The broadcasting side only sends data. The standard beacon advertisement consists of a UUID, including major value and minor value only.
Major ID: 1
Minor ID: 2
Example: If we deploy beacon devices in the chain of grocery stores and make an app that can tell the user once he/she arrives at a specific store, they would define a UUID that is unique to their app and the beacons inside their stores. Inside the stores, they would place beacon devices and configure each of them to use a different “minor” value. For example, at the store A, they would place all beacon devices broadcasting the same UUID, major value 0, minor 1 near the door, minor 2 near the ingredients display and minor value 3 near the cashier. At store B, they would use the same UUID, but major 1 and minor values according to the location inside the store.
With the information broadcasted by each beacon, an app can detect them and tell how close the phone is from each item inside the store and perform actions, such as display alerts to the user, offer discounts, turn lights on and off, open doors and so on. ‘
This table demonstrates real-time implementation of iBeacon
Prior to iOS 7, Core Location used regions defined by a geographic location (latitude and longitude) and ‘geofence,’ basically a radius. iBeacon enables a new level of flexibility by defining regions with an identifier.
Privacy and Location
As iBeacon is part of the Core Location, and the same user authorization is required in order to use the core location services.
Accuracy of iBeacon
To ensure an effective user experience, it is important to consider how signals from a beacon are detected and used to establish accuracy. When an iOS device detects a beacon’s signal, it uses the strength of the signal (RSSI – Received Signal Strength Indication) to determine both proximity to the beacon, as well as the accuracy of its estimation of proximity.
The stronger the signal, the more confident iOS can be about the proximity to the beacon. The weaker the signal, the less confident iOS is about the proximity to the beacon.
As the device gets closer to the beacon, the received signal strength increases and therefore the accuracy of the proximity estimate increases. A device that is closer to a beacon will have higher confidence about its proximity to the beacon emitting the signal.
However, just as GPS signal strength can be diminished by physical objects like buildings or being placed in a backpack, purse or pocket, so can a beacon’s signal strength. Loss of intensity of a signal can be caused by many factors. Physical materials surrounding the beacon cause signal loss may cause the device to believe that the beacon is further away than it actually is. The human body itself is an excellent attenuator of Bluetooth signals. If your body is positioned between the device and the beacon then it will affect the signal strength and thereby lower the accuracy.
Similar to the existing geofence region monitoring, an application can request notifications when a device enters or leaves a region defined by a beacon. When an application makes this request to begin monitoring a beacon region it must specify the UUID of the iBeacon advertisement. can monitor 20 regions, by using a single UUID in multiple locations.
Apple introduces a new set of APIs for determining the approximate proximity to a device using iBeacon technology, a process known as “ranging”. Based on common usage scenarios, iOS applies filters to the accuracy estimate to determine estimated proximity to a beacon. This estimate is indicated using one of the following four proximity states:
Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth LE, BLE, marketed as Bluetooth Smart) is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (BSIG) aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries.
The major difference between the common Bluetooth protocol and BLE is that minimum energy is required for two devices to broadcast or detect BLE transmissions. Because low energy is the focus, the kind of data/information sent by these devices is also minimum, slim and very slow. That being said, a BLE device is not supposed to transfer audio, video or support any kind of application that requires high bandwidth or large amounts of data.
BLE communication consists of two main parts: advertising and connecting.
Advertising is a one-way discovery mechanism. Devices which want to be discovered can transmit packets of data in intervals from 20 ms to 10 seconds. The shorter the interval, the shorter the battery life, but the faster the device can be discovered.
Theoretically, any iOS device compatible with Bluetooth version 4.0 and iOS 7 and above supports the technology necessary to detect iBeacon. The iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5C iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, new iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod touch (5th generation and above) all support iBeacon.