Beacon Signal Stability Observations

As previously mentioned, we perform signal strength and stability tests across beacons. The data feeds into our consultancy work. Here are some high level observations.

The following graph shows the standard deviation of the RSSI @ 1m, for some of our beacons, measured over a 60 second time period:

beaconsignalstability

Smaller bars are better and represent beacons
whose RSSI varied the least over time.

We found that beacons belonged to one or two groups. Firstly those with very stable RSSI and secondly those with an RSSI that had a standard deviation between about 4 and 6 dBm.

Signal stability is more important when you are using the RSSI to infer distance, either directly from the RSSI itself or indirectly via, for example, the iOS immediate, near and far indicators. RSSI varying without a change of distance might cause more spurious triggering. However, you should keep in mind that environmental factors can often cause variation much larger than the 4 to 6 dBm found in this test. Moving obstacles, for example people, will cause significant variation in RSSI.

Bluetooth LE advertising moves pseudo-randomly between radio channels. The channels use different radio frequencies that, in turn, results in fading of the signal at different distances. We experienced and mitigated similar behaviour in our BluetoothLocationEngine™. Different radio frequencies experience different constructive and destructive interference at different physical locations. Beacons that move more between channels can cause more rapidly varying received signal strength (RSSI).

Which Beacons Support iBeacon and Eddystone Simultaneously?

Beacons periodically transmit a small amount of standard Bluetooth data. The format of that data varies depending on whether it’s iBeacon, Eddystone and sensor data.

Beacon advertising protocols

We sometimes get asked which beacons support advertising of multiple protocols simultaneously. The ‘simultaneous’ category on the web store shows beacons that can be set to advertise more than one protocol.

Note that, in actual fact, no beacon can send multiple protocols simultaneously. Instead the advertising data is sent for a protocol, very shortly, milliseconds, after the other.

Adding an IoT Protocol to Beacons

There’s new research by Department Computer Science, Universidad Técnica de Machala, Ecuador on Design and Practical Evaluation of a Family of Lightweight Protocols for Heterogeneous Sensing through BLE Beacons in IoT Telemetry Applications.

The researchers explain how standard beacon advertising works and documents the existing iBeacon and Eddystone protocols.

New protocols, LP4S-6 (for resource-constraint beacons), LP4S-X (for more powerful beacons) and LP4S-J (for beacons able to run complex firmware) are proposed that can be used to allow IoT telemetry systems to discover new nodes and to describe and auto-register the sensors and actuators connected to a beacon.

The paper describes the resultant JSON, shows how a new protocol can be added to an Eddystone beacon and proves how the new latency and power consumption remain low.

Note that updating the firmware of a beacon is non-trivial because it requires the implementation of what’s already on the beacon without access to the original source code.

Google Beacon Platform Shutting Down

Google stopped serving Android Nearby Notifications late in 2018 but kept the Nearby API working for use within apps. Google has now deprecated the Nearby API that allows you to associate beacon ids with arbitrary content such as a link or multimedia data. It will be shut down on April 1, 2021.

No, it’s not an April fool joke but instead another useful thing killed by Google. Apart from Search, Cloud, Gmail and perhaps Android it’s risky to base your business on anything provided by Google. Unless it’s an offering through which Google itself depends for income then you can’t depend on it sticking around. Instead, businesses should look to create their own APIs.

This shows the easy route isn’t always the best route. Think about your project dependencies. It is likely the platform you depend on will exist for the lifetime of your project? How is the platform funded? How is the company that provides the platform funded?

Read about Trigger Data and Beacon Servers

Read about The Advantages of Generic Beacons

Mist WiFi Access Points Broadcast as Bluetooth Beacons

WiFi access points are increasingly supporting the broadcast of Bluetooth beacon signals. The main usecase is to allow for smartphone apps to detect the Bluetooth advertising and provide for location based information and navigation.

We recently learnt that Mist access points support the advertising of iBeacon and Eddystone:

There are also some interesting uses in retail that automatically provision smartphone WiFi access settings based on the detected presence of a beacon.

Waze Beacons in 18Km of Australia Tunnels

We previously mentioned Waze Beacons in Tunnels in New York City. Since then, Waze beacons have been installed in further cities such as Chicago, Paris, Rio, Brussels, Florence and Oslo. The latest installations are by Transurban who manage tunnels in Australia where they have installed over 930 beacons in 18Km of tunnels.

Waze beacons allow uninterrupted location services underground ensuring drivers never miss an in-tunnel exit. They provide navigation underground where GPS doesn’t work.

The beacons advertise Eddystone. The Waze app sees the beacons and uses the known beacon locations rather than GPS. Google is also a partner which allows Google Maps to also see Waze beacons when driving in tunnels.

Physical Web App for Android

There’s a new Physical Web app for Android by the Physical Web Association. The app detects beacons advertising Eddystone URL.

The app joins the iOS version. The new apps and the Physical Web Association take up the space left by Google abandoning the Physical Web. The association’s apps are unbranded so can be used by anyone to provide for information triggered by beacons.

The Physical Web Association aims to provide the universal apps, metadata services and support. Mr Beacon has a new interview with Agustin Musi and James Grant, founders of the Physical Web Association. It explains how the Association hopes to work with manufacturers to simplify the beacon setup experience. It also mentions opportunities to use Eddystone URLs to lead to progressive web apps to provide device control using web Bluetooth APIs. This was one of the original premises of Google’s ambitions for the physical web.

Unlike Google’s implementation, the Physical Web Association hopes to create a publisher-driven categorisation/ranking system and end user app settings to limit and filter when notifications are shown when beacons are detected in background.

View Eddystone beacons

EddystoneCMS Retired

Following on from Google to Stop Serving Android Nearby Notifications, today we have retired EddystoneCMS.

If you want to use beacons for marketing you now need to have an app that listens for iBeacon or Eddystone advertising. In some ways this is better than the discontinued Nearby notifications. For marketers it is more:

  • Reliable – Google’s mechanism wasn’t 100% reliable
  • Transparent – you can more easily diagnose problems when it doesn’t work
  • Accountable – you can collect many more metrics
  • Flexible – a beacon can trigger anything the smartphone can do rather than just a web site

However, this is at the cost of requiring the user to install an app. Marketing using beacons is best retro-fitted into existing apps rather than within marketing specific apps for which you will need a large incentive for consumers to install.

Read about Beacons for Marketing

Android Physical Web App Removed from the Play Store


Important: This web page is provided for historical purposes.

On 25 October 2018, Google announced they are discontinuing Nearby Notifications on Android. This mechanism should no longer be used.

Read about using Beacons for Marketing


Google has removed the Android Physical Web app from the Play Store. This provided a way of scanning for Eddystone beacons without relying on the built-in Android Nearby functionality. As previously mentioned, the Google Physical web team was disbanded. Google have now removed the app, presumably because there’s no-one to maintain it in tandem with new versions of Android. Here’s the final Android Physical Web APK if you wish to side-load the file.

The iOS Physical Web app is still available. The iOS version wasn’t written by Google and has recently been taken over by the non-profit Physical Web Association. We anticipate the Physical Web Association will one day release a new Physical Web app for Android.

New Physical Web Association

Last April we asked if the Physical Web was dead and mentioned that a group of people, led by Agustin Musi from Switzerland, was contemplating creating PhysicalWeb2. The Physical Web Association (PHWA) has now been created as a non-profit association with the goal of driving the development, community, and adoption of the Physical Web. The PHWA is now accepting memberships.

A refreshed TestFlight version of the PhyWeb iOS app is available to members. This new app will be promoted via advertising and the press. In time, the PHWA aims to develop a native app kit to add the Physical Web to existing apps, develop brand-neutral apps for iOS and Android and host a metadata service as, presumably, a substitute for the google Physical Web Proxy.