BeaconGrid Blog

Bluetooth Beacon Technology 101: iBeacon & Eddystone Basics

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 28, 2017 11:00:00 AM / by Connie

Super Market

Sorting through your options among Bluetooth technology can be like trying to choose products in a foreign grocery store. Should I get the purplish thing or the yellowish thing? How are you supposed to eat this? Can someone please translate the signs?

To mitigate some of the confusion involved in choosing beacons, we have written this article to make navigating the landscape of Bluetooth beacons easier for you.

Let’s start with defining Bluetooth beacons. They are devices that broadcast, within a radius, small packets of data over Bluetooth, a type of radio wave.

Cellular Tower

Think of it  like a radio tower that transmits waves to your car antennae but with a much shorter range. The data is typically a single beacon ID or a URL, which can be used by the device, frequently a mobile phone, to prompt an action. A URL will prompt you to visit a relevant link, while an ID number can be used by an app to deduce your location and prompt you based on that information.

Bluetooth beacons have led to exciting new advances in many fields and have spurred innovations in technology. They form the basic unit of the Physical Web, an effort by Google to enable you to interact with any physical object imbedded with a particular kind of beacon. Bluetooth beacons are also involved in the Internet of Things, which is a network of devices that are connected to a vast database of knowledge about the physical world and which communicate with each other without human-to-human interaction. In a more traditional industry like retail, beacons have led to personalized marketing, by which you can receive tips on nearby deals while shopping. BeaconGrid recently integrated beacon technology with Alexa to create a system for locating all your employees and assets, valuable for managing large workplaces or campuses.

Bluetooth beacon example

Example of real time bluetooth beacon technology

There are several beacon protocols, the most popular ones being iBeacon and Eddystone. At BeaconGrid, we have developed patented Outlet sensors that can broadcast both Eddystone and iBeacon and enables all the functions these two frameworks can provide.

Deciding which one is better suited for you can be complicated, so we have broken down the main functions of each and compared them.

What is iBeacon?

iBeacon is a protocol announced by Apple in December 2013 and officially works only with iOS devices, although many Android devices have also developed capability to receive their signals.

As of April 2017, the iBeacon protocol is primarily used within apps, meaning they only work with apps installed on a device. iBeacons interact with apps by broadcasting a single unique ID number that can be used by the app to prompt an action. A variety of actions can be taken based on the information, such as providing your location on an indoor map, notifying you of a nearby deal, checking you into a building. A recent example of iBeacons in healthcare is using them in conjunction with a cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform to monitor how quickly patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) are being treated. An example of iBeacons in indoor locational services is our  iBeacon-based Cards and Rings  that can be associated with an identity and tracked inside a venue.

asset tracking.jpg

Our asset tracking dashboard for cards and rings


An advantage of the iBeacon is that it can be used to prompt a variety of functions within an app. The user also exercises control of their privacy and must give permission to the app to use their locational data and initiate actions. A disadvantage of iBeacon in this case, however, is that the function is limited within the app and the audience size is smaller than is reached by the Physical Web.

What is Eddystone?

In July 2015, Google announced Eddystone as an alternative beacon format that has some important differences from the iBeacon. The Eddystone beacon can broadcast BLE signals equally well to both Android and iOS devices, giving it more flexibility in broadcasting. In contrast with iBeacon’s single type of signal, Eddystone protocol  up to three different types: a unique ID number, a URL address and telemetric data.

Like the iBeacon, the Eddystone beacon can function as an app beacon by broadcasting a single unique ID that is used by apps.

Additionally, Eddystone beacons can broadcast a URL address thereby connecting devices to the Internet directly. It forms THE foundation of the Physical Web. For example, a “smart” toaster connected to the Physical Web can send your phone links on how to use it, how to recycle it, etc. Eddystone provides users with easy access to information and circumvents the use of apps.

Eddystone beacons can also send telemetry data. Walking within range of an Eddystone broadcasting this signal allows you to receive information on the stats of the beacon, such as battery voltage, beacon temperature, number of packets sent since last power-up and beacon time since last power-up or reboot. This information is useful for fleet management and can be used with a fleet management service like BeaconGrid’s that can keep all your beacons’ data together.

To learn more about the Eddystone format, you can visit Google’s information page here.

Comparing iBeacons and Eddystone

When choosing which format suits your needs, one helpful way of considering them is to think about whether you want to use an app beacon or a Physical Web beacon and how much effort you are willing to invest in implementing them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of App Beacons

App beacons, i.e. iBeacons and Eddystone app-enabled beacons, give you more complex functions compared to Physical Web beacons. Apps are programmed in great length, so if you are attempting to provide your customer with detailed locational data or to take personalized actions, you should choose an app beacon.

On the other hand, app beacons take more expertise than Physical Web beacons to implement due to the process of developing an app.

When comparing between the two protocols—iBeacon vs Eddystone—one of the main differences is how well they work on iOS or Android devices. iBeacons only interact with Android devices when the app is open or running in the background, while they can “wake up” the app on an iOS device. On the other hand, Eddystone app “wake up” the app on either device.

One advantage iBeacon has over Eddystone is that iBeacon is easier to implement for developers because it has fewer functions and is less open to customization. If you want to use apps and don’t mind having fewer options for customizing or if the majority of your audience are iOS device users, using iBeacon is the way to go.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Physical Web Beacons

Alternatively, there are physical web beacons, synonymous with Eddystone beacons, which have the ability to connect your device to the web.

It is an advantage and a disadvantage for physical web beacons to be built on top of the web. Linking to the Internet can save time and effort in providing the client with customized information and actions. The website is quicker to make especially if you are only seeking to provide the user with information rather than prompting dynamic actions.

However, the relative ease in setting up a physical web beacon as opposed to an app beacon means a greater ease in spoofing your beacon or hacking it. A hoaxer could place a competing physical web beacon near yours linked to a similar sounding website. Your website could also be hacked if not fortified against malware through regular protective measures. Still, the Internet is currently more susceptible than apps to hacking attempts.


A summary of the comparisons between App Beacons and Physical Web Beacons:


 

App Beacon

Physical Web Beacon

Technical Expertise to Implement

High

Medium

Reach of Audience

Narrow

Wide

Compatible devices

iBeacon for iOS is better; Eddystone is equally good for iOS and Android

Both iOS and Android work equally well

Purpose is to Inform

Good

Excellent

Purpose is to Enable Complex Actions

Excellent

Okay

Security

Excellent

Good


Which one should I choose?


Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand the usages and benefits of each type of beacon. Below is our summary of the main points:

  • If your main concern is time and resources or if you want to link to the web, the Physical Web Beacon is the best choice.
  • If you want an app and an easier time implementing the beacon, or if you want to an app and your target audience is iOS users, iBeacons may be the better option.
  • If you want an app that functions equally well on Android and iOS and you don’t mind spending more effort learning to implement the beacon, you should consider Eddystone app beacons.

You may still be undecided on which one is best for your needs, or you may decide that you want to stretch your beacon capabilities with both types. BeaconGrid’s trademark BeaconOutlets

decide lets you broadcast either or both iBeacons and Eddystone at the same time, giving you room to experiment with the effects.


BLE beacons are quickly developing new worlds, such as the Physical Web and the Internet of Things. They are also becoming the future of retail, the healthcare industry and indoor locational services. BeaconGrid has used beacon technology to improve indoor locational services by combining its technology with Amazon’s Alexa. Retailers have tapped into BLE beacons for use in proximity marketing and need-based alerts, which have improved sales at offline stores by providing customers with relevant information. These examples are just a few areas this exciting technology has catalyzed, with many more developments yet to be realized.


Learn more about how BeaconGrid can work with you by requesting a demo.

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Topics: Eddystone, ibeacon, bluetooth, Beacons