The Beacon Dictionary

Tim Groot | March 10, 2014

Beacons, Bluetooth Low Energy technology, and iBeacon technology are just some of the terms that are popping up across the Internet in recent weeks. The technology has great potential for Museums, Stadiums and other location based experiences. However, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the articles because of the new terms. That is why we decided to build our own little beacon dictionary.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Technology
Lets start the list with the actual technology behind the hype. Bluetooth Low Energy (also called Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth 4.0) has been around since 2006 and it is basically a scaled down version of ‘classic’ Bluetooth as you can see in the illustration below.
BLE has approximately half the range of ‘classic’ Bluetooth and it has a lower battery consumption. With BLE technology the connection is established faster but the throughput is lower. As a result BLE is the best solution for triggering notifications in an app but not for sending actual data to your phone.

A beacon is basically any device that can send out a BLE signal. This means that smartphones that support the technology are beacons, placing an iPhone 5 next to every painting in a museum wouldn’t be cost effective. Around 20 companies have started manufacturing small pieces of hardware to allow businesses to implement this technology at a reasonable price. We made a list of the biggest manufacturers.

The story of the beacons doesn’t end there, potentially any BLE enabled device can be a beacon. Samsung is putting BLE technology in watches. This video demonstrates some of the potential benefits are shown restaurants could have when using an iPad as a beacon.

iBeacon technology
The iBeacon technology is Apple’s trademark name for the protocol that is needed to change the received BLE signal into a notification on your phone. The exact definition for iBeacon technology is a bit vague, this description will help you get a better understanding of the articles.

NFC vs BLE vs QR-codes
NFC technology was expected to be the answer for proximity marketing and payment solutions. A helpful comparison between BLE and NFC can be found in this infographic. NFC has some advantages over BLE, however BLE has more possible user cases and it is already integrated into a wide range of smartphones. QR-codes? Well, lets just say that they were never the best looking option.