Beacons Are Dead, Long Live Beacons!

What Happened to Eddystone Beacons?

On December 7, 2020 Google depreciated it’s Beacon Platform, which  iIncluded  the Beacon Dashboard, Proximity API, and the Eddystone Format.

A Brief History of Beacons

Apple announced the iBeacon Platform in 2013. These beacons were part of a class of Bluetooth devices known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). These devices broadcast a unique identifier to nearby Phones and Tablets. Using this identifier, applications could determine the approximate distance to the beacon for indoor and offline navigation. Retailers began to use this unique identifier to present offers to shoppers via their apps.

In 2015, Google announced their competing BLE platform, Eddystone. In addition to the unique identifier, this platform could also broadcast a URL. These beacons could be registered via the Proximity API, related data stored via the Proximity API in a database and viewed and managed with the Beacon Dashboard. This system enabled developers to easily develop applications against this backend and display data associated with the beacon in those applications.

Why Did the Google Beacon Platform Fail?

Google derives most of their income from advertising; therefore they built their BLE platform with advertising in mind. Their original implementation displayed notifications from nearby Eddystone Beacons. Shoppers were bombarded with notifications and hated this experience.

In December, 2018, Google stopped these notifications, however,Developers could still use the Proximity API and Beacon Dashboard with the Apps they built. As the beacon market developed, the Eddystone Platform did not keep up. Vendors began making beacons with proprietary protocols and more sensors. Developers could use these beacons to do things like get the temperature, ambient light levels, sense movement, humidity, etc.

Won’t the Upcoming Ultra Wide Band (UWB) Tags from Apple and Samsung Replace these Beacons?

UWB Tags are much more precise than existing BLE beacons.Using the most recent high end phones, users will be able to locate items within about 5 feet (1.5 meters) versus 16 feet (5 meters) with current BLE beacons.

The initial implementation of these tags will primarily be for finding lost personal items. If your phone is in range of the item, it will discover it. It also appears that the tags will send out a signal that any phone with an up to date OS will forward to the platform of the phone’s manufacturer so you can find these tags when you are not in range of the phone.

We don’t believe that these tags will replace the current generation of BLE beacons for a few reasons:

  • These UWB Tags will require a new (circa 2020) Apple or Samsung Phone
  • They will not be compatible with most of the existing gateways
  • These tags will most likely initially only work with the proprietary applications on Apple or Samsung Phones
  • Apple and Samsung UWB seem to be geared towards finding lost items, not providing all of the other sensor data that current BLE beacons do
  • BLE Beacons will be much, much cheaper than these UWB Tags will be

Based on these reasons, we predict that UWB tags will eventually complement BLE Beacon implemenatons. We will have to see if and how much Apple and Samsung will allow developers access to their SDKs in order to develop applications that will work with these tags. UWB tags and gateways are starting to become available from vendors outside of Apple and Samsung.  So if more precision is needed, applications and gateways will use UWB tags in addition to the existing BLE beacons.

What do Current BLE Beacon Deployments Look Like?

The signals from BLE Beacons can be consumed by two methods, using a Gateway, or using a Phone or Tablet with an application.

Collecting Data With a Gateway

A BLE gateway gathers beacon’s signals and forwards them to a “core” in a cloud service. These gateways can use Wi Fi, LTM-M or NB-IOT (protocols for sending data about things via cellular services), and good old fashioned ethernet.  A serverless application spins up and parses those signals into the appropriate fields in a database. This is great for gathering information from a location and monitoring it over time. Retailers can see areas where shoppers linger using something like INGICs Human Detection Sensor.  Serverless applications can alert workers if assets move or thresholds are exceeded for temperature, humidity, ambient light and so on.

Collecting and Using Data with an Application on a Phone or Tablet

Applications on iOS or Android devices can consume the signals from BLE beacons. These applications can help users navigate, even without an internet connection. They can also be used to gather information associated with the BLE beacon such as offers for shoppers, information about an asset attached to the beacon, or information from any of the sensors connected to the beacon such as temperature, humidity, motion and more.  When the user is online, information about the beacons can be updated in your application from a hosted database.

Summing Up

While Google may have pulled the plug on it’s BLE ecosystem, BLE beacons aren’t going anywhere.  They will continue to be used in applications outside of advertising such as asset tracking, environment monitoring, offline navigation, and retailing applications.

Are you considering using BLE beacons in your business or workplace?  Have you already deployed a beacon solution on Google’s platform and need help moving to something else? Revolution11 has the expertise to create a full ecosystem using beacons – contact us to learn how.

Beacons Are Dead, Long Live Beacons!