We sometimes get asked if we have a replacement for Estimote beacons. There’s no exact replacement because Estimote manufacture their own custom product and only allow their own beacons on their platform.
However, if your app doesn’t use the Estimote SDK and just detects iBeacon advertising using the standard iOS and Android Bluetooth libraries then you can use any iBeacon. Also see our post regarding compatibility.
TRBOnet is a 2-way radio dispatch system sold and supported by Motorola. It can use iBeacons to provide for locating where the Motorola radio GPS doesn’t work. This allows radios and hence people to be located indoors or undercover areas such as trees.
TRBOnet Plus will work with any iBeacons. The ones with higher battery capacity tend to be used so that batteries don’t have to be replaced for years.
The i3 is popular for use with TRBOnet as it takes AA batteries that can be easily sourced and the unit has screw tags for permanent mounting. Some sites also use USB beacons that can be powered from the mains via USB power supplies.
If you use the i3, or any beacon using AA batteries, we recommend you use lithium AA batteries rather than alkaline. This will not only provide a longer battery life but will also provide better resilience at lower temperatures.
We recently started selling beacons that can advertise LINE. This post explains LINE advertising with information on the packet format.
LINE Beacons are used with the LINE messenger service that allows users to send text, video, and voice messages on smartphones and the PC. It’s currently available in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. LINE have iOS and Android developer APIs that allow you to hook into the LINE service and include LINE services in your app. The LINE beacon allows your LINE code, called a bot, to receive beacon webhook events whenever a LINE user enters the proximity of a beacon. The beacons allow you to customise your bot app to interact with users in specific contexts. There’s also a beacon banner feature, available for corporate users, that causes a banner to appear in the LINE messenger app when it comes close to a LINE beacon.
Unlike iBeacon, LINE Beacon packets have a secure message field to prevent packet tampering and replay attacks. The secure data is 7 bytes long containing a message authentication code, timestamp and battery level. Secure messages are sent to the LINE platform for verification.
LINE recommend LINE beacon packets be sent at a very high rate of every 152ms. In addition, LINE recommend advertising iBeacon (UUID D0D2CE24-9EFC-11E5-82C4-1C6A7A17EF38, Major 0x4C49, Mino 0x4E45) to notify iOS devices that the LINE Beacon device is nearby. This is because an iOS app can only see iBeacons when in background and LINE beacons can’t wake an app.
We observe that the high advertising rate and concurrent iBeacon advertising aren’t battery friendly and the beacon battery isn’t going to last long.
Bluetooth beacons use Bluetooth LE, a low power version of Bluetooth to repeatedly send out a short amount of data typically up to 50m but in some cases hundreds of metres. The data usually includes an identifier in various standard formats such as iBeacon or Eddystone. It can also include sensor data.
The beacon advertising can be picked up by other Bluetooth LE devices such as smartphones, WiFi gateways to send to a server and single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi.
The key features are:
Low power and hence can work for up to years on battery power
Interoperability with a large number of other Bluetooth LE devices
The iB003N-PA has a range up to 300m because it uses the RFAXIS X2401C 2.4GHz amplifier to increase the range.
When you use the manufacturer app to change the power output by a beacon, you are changing the power output by the Nordic nRF51 System on a Chip (SoC) that is usually fed to the antenna. In the case of the iB003N-PA, the RFAXIS X2401C instead receives the signal, amplifies it and sends it to the antenna. The resultant change in output is:
20dBm is the maximum allowable output for class 1 Bluetooth. There’s no difference whether you set to 0dBm or 4dBm, the output will be 20dBm. Even at a low power setting, -10dbm, the amplified output is 10dBm which is relatively high compared to the nominal 0dBm for most beacons. That’s just over 3x the power (3dBm change is a doubling of power) of a normal beacon. You can see that this beacon is primarily designed for long distance and there’s no need to change the SoC power from the default 0dBm = 20dBm.
We sometimes get asked “What is iBeacon Technology?”. In terms of the beacon itself, iBeacon doesn’t imply much. The underlying Bluetooth does most of the hard work. iBeacon is only one of many possible formats of standard Bluetooth advertising.
The more useful functionality is in iOS itself. Apps can declare an interest in particular beacons and be triggered even when the app is not running. The triggering is usually used to cause a notification on the phone that the user can tap on to do more. If the app is already open, it can look for beacons and display appropriate app content.
Android may also trigger and scan for iBeacons but this is in the context of scanning for Bluetooth advertising as opposed to specific iBeacons.
We often get asked what’s the best iBeacon? Unfortunately, there is no one best beacon for all scenarios. It depends on your particular project and business requirements. Having said this we have some favourites based on specific characteristics:
Best for Price:TON9108 – Well built, Apple MFi certified beacon.
Beacons are small computers that run software, or more specifically firmware. Beacon manufacturers write the firmware that uses Bluetooth software libraries to send out iBeacon, Eddystone and/or sensor data advertising.
When a beacon supports over-the-air (OTA) update, it allows that firmware to be updated without physically connecting to the beacon with wires. An app, such as Nordic nRF Toolbox is used to connect to the beacon via Bluetooth and update the software.
In practice, manufacturers rarely update their firmware so whether a beacon supports OTA update or not isn’t usually an issue.
The only beacons that tend to get updated, as a matter of course, are Sensoro beacons, when the user wants to switch between standard Sensoro firmware and Eddystone Standard GATT firmware.
Most beacons’ configuration app have a setting for ‘measured power’. This doesn’t change the power output by the beacon. Instead, it’s a value that’s put into the advertising data that declares to receiving devices what the power should be at a distance of 1 meter from the beacon. Receiving devices such as smartphones and gateways can use this to help calibrate a calculation to determine the rough distance from the beacon.
You don’t usually change this value and it’s actually rarely used. In most cases the value is irrelevant and can be ignored. However, if your app or receiving device does use this value, it’s best to first do some tests to see what the power level is in your particular situation. Things like the physical environment, blocking and beacon orientation can affect the actual power level at 1m. Set the value according to your particular scenario.