iBeacon is a new technology that extends
Location Services on mobile devices.
Your iOS device can trigger apps when you approach or
leave a location with an iBeacon. In addition to monitoring
location, an app can estimate your proximity to an iBeacon
(for example, a display or checkout counter in a retail store).
Instead of using latitude and longitude to define the location,
iBeacon uses a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signal, which
iOS devices detect
What they are?
iBeacons are tiny computers that are cheap to produce and last a long time. They broadcast a
simple signal that can be detected by smartphones. That location can be very broad ("Tim's Shoe
Store"), store-based ("Tim's Shoe Store Atlanta") or even department-based.
("the boots section of Tim's Shoe Store Atlanta").
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Communication
To understand how iBeacon works, it’s important to first be familiar with Bluetooth Low Energy
(BLE). Bluetooth Low Energy is a network technology used to transmit data over short distances.
BLE communication comprises of advertisements of small packets of data which are broadcasted
at regular intervals through radio waves. BLE broadcasting is a one-way communication method;
it simply advertises its packets of data.
These packets of data can then be picked up by smart devices nearby, which can be used for a
number of applications to trigger events such as prompts, push notifications, and app actions.
How does iBeacon Work?
How iBeacon uses BLE Communication
Apple has standardized the format of iBeacon BLE advertising. An iBeacon’s
advertising packet is made up of 3 components:
UUID: A universally unique identifier (UUID) comes in a 16 byte string format that
distinguishes a company’s beacons from others. For example, if Nike has a network of
beacons across its chain of retail stores, all of Nike’s beacons would share the same UUID.
This allows Nike’s app to know which advertisements come from Nike-owned beacons.
Major value: Major values come as a 2 byte string and is used to specify a beacon within a
group. If Nike deploys 20 beacons in its store in San Francisco, all of those beacons would
have the same major value. The major value essentially allows Nike to know which store
their customers are in.
Minor value: Minor values also come as a 2 byte string and is used to identify specific
beacons. A beacon at Nike’s storefront and at the men’s shoe section would both have its own
unique minor value.
At a minimum, businesses are required to input UUID details when programming beacons. Major
and minor values are optional.
A unique UUID to
distinguish your beacons
from other beacons
Same UUID for a
company's beacons (i.e.
Used to specify a
particular beacon within
Arbitrary numeric value:
Stores in New York = 1
Stores in San Francisco
Used to identify specific
Arbitrary numeric value:
Storefront = 5
Shoes section = 6
Cashier = 7
Measuring Distance and Range
Transmitter Power (txPower): The txPower is used to determine how close a device is to a
beacon. It is the strength of the signal 1 meter from the device. With this, a rough estimate of the
device’s proximity to the beacon is given.
A beacon has 3 approximate ranges:
A beacon’s range is affected by many obstacles such as walls, furniture, or people. All of these can
weaken a beacon’s signal, which is why the measured distance is a rough estimate.
Businesses can deliver different contextually relevant interactions to customers when customers
are in immediate range of a beacon, near a beacon, or far from a beacon.
Immediate: a few centimeters
Near: a few meters
Far: approximately 10 meters
Proximity based services with iBeacon is now possible.
Are they expensive?
No, iBeacons are cheap to buy and use, and cost about $30-$40 each. If you have a small store,
one beacon is enough to cover the whole place, but if you have lots of walls you may need two or
three. Companies like Estimote sell three in a pack for $99, and each iBeacon is sticky – you can
place it wherever you want!
Is iBeacons only good for shopping and coupons?
No. iBeacons also features micro-location geofencing. This is ideal for indoor mapping. For
instance, GPS signals have trouble penetrating the steel and glass of buildings. This prevents
many mapping apps from offering indoor navigation, but iBeacon’s microlocation feature hopes
to solve the problem.
An iPhone with iBeacon can connect to a nearby beacon to determine a GPS location. You could
then navigate through an airport, casino or museum just by using a mapping app. And that's only
the beginning; the possibilities are endless.
Device & OS Support
You can control which apps and system services access Location Services data, including
iBeacon: Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
Note: If you allow third-party apps or websites to use your current location, you agree to their
terms, privacy policies, and practices. You should review the terms, privacy policies, and practices
of the apps and websites to understand how they use your location and other
iPhone 4s or later
iPad (3rd generation) or later
iPad mini or later
iPod touch (5th generation) or later
Will iBeacon be more expensive than NFC?
iBeacons is more affordable. Using the Starbucks reference, the area of a typical Starbucks store
starts at 1,700 square feet. iBeacons' range is 50 meters. Therefore, Starbucks would need one
beacon at minimum for each store. Estimote is currently offering pre-orders of three beacons for
If Starbucks wanted to use NFC instead, it would need to put 10-cent NFC tags on every product.
That mean's it would pay $100,000 for NFC tags to put on 1 million products.
To use iBeacon, you need iOS 7 or later, Bluetooth turned on, and a compatible iOS device:
Here are some findings:
In-store retail and offline payments are in the first wave of beacon applications. Retail outlets
are adopting beacons to provide customers with product information, flash sales or deals, and
to speed up the checkout process with a completely contactless payments system.
Consumers seem receptive to beacons as a way to enhance their instore
shopping experience. Half of American adults already utilize their mobile devices in stores.
But there's a barrier to wide adoption of beacon technology: several layers of permissions.
Customers have to turn on Bluetooth, accept location services on the relevant app and opt-in to
receive in-store or indoor notifications.
People are confused about Apple iBeacon because it has yet to take a true physical form. Apple
hasn't manufactured a physical beacon. Instead, Apple's iBeacon is built into its devices and
iOS7 mobile operating system. Already, 200 million iOS devices can already serve as
transmitters and receivers. But third-party manufacturers have built beacons that can send
iBeacon messages to Apple devices.
The beacon wars are heating up. PayPal and Qualcomm are gearing up to challenge Apple with
beacon hardware of their own. Smaller vendors like Estimote, Swirl, and GPShopper are
entering the mix with beacon management and consulting on top of hardware or software
The applications go beyond retail: We expect beacons to be deployed all over airports and
ground transit hubs so that notifications on departures, delays, and gate and platform
assignments can be delivered instantly to passenger phones.
In-Store Mobile Shopping Experiences
(% of adult cell owners who used their phone during the past 30 days inside a store to...)
Call for advice about a purchase Use phone to look up products reviews Use phone to look up products pricing
Source: Pew, January 2013 2012 2013
Pros & Cons
with wifi and can
be used across all
Requires an installed
app by user to
Investments in Wifi
SW/HW to achieve
Great accuracy for use
with payments and
Very low cost of
NFC/RFID Not supported by Apple
20 cm (7.9 Inch) range
Bluetooth 4.0 &
available on most
iBeacons Requires an app to
be installed &
Bluetooth to be running
and become complex
to maintain when
you scale up
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