When in typical use, it’s not necessary to connect to a beacon. A beacon just advertises and is detected by a smartphone or Bluetooth gateway. However, to initially set up a beacon you usually connect via a smartphone app. The app might not connect for a number of reasons. Here are some tips:
Most beacons need to be put into ‘connectable’ mode. For example, for most AnkhMaway beacons this means tapping them sharply on a table until they ring – they remain connectable for 45 secs and once connected remain so until you have configured the beacon. For Axaet and Meeblue beacons they stay connectable for a few minutes after turning them on.
Make sure you are connecting to the correct beacon. This is especially important if you are seeing multiple Bluetooth devices in the list. For example, we had one customer who hadn’t removed the plastic battery slip and had been trying to connect to some other Bluetooth beacon/device.
Connecting, via what is a wireless interface, might not work first time. While most connections do happen first time, there can be radio interference and radio signal reflections that can cause the connection to fail. Some configuration apps re-try if the first connect fails while others don’t. Make sure you have tried a few times before concluding a particular scenario doesn’t work.
Some phones have a faulty Bluetooth beacon stack. That’s the Bluetooth software built into your phone. While you might be able to view the beacon, connecting to it to change settings uses more advanced functionality that’s sometimes faulty. Over time, we have discovered about 5% of our customers have such problems, more so on Android. It’s a much more common problem than a faulty beacon. You can isolate this possibility by trying a different phone and/or different phone OS type.
Don’t try connecting from more than one phone at a time. When connected, that phone has exclusive access to the beacon and other phones won’t be able to see the beacon and connect.
Try rebooting your phone to reset the internal Bluetooth software.
Try resetting the beacon by removing and replacing the battery (where possible). This isn’t the same as turning off via a button press which usually only puts the beacon into hibernation and doesn’t restart the device.
Some configuration apps have known bugs. Read the BeaconZone technical area for your particular beacon manufacturer where we document known problems and workarounds.
The beacon could be faulty. This is actually a very rare occurrence and you should initially be considering other more likely possibilities (above). You can isolate this possibility if you have another similar beacon. Please contact us for replacement if you conclude you have a faulty beacon.
The distance that a beacon can transmit is shown in the specification tab for each beacon. This is the maximum range specified by the manufacturer at maximum power under ideal conditions.
Here are some tips if the range is less than expected:
Make sure the beacon is operating in normal rather than configuration or connectable mode. Some beacons transmit differently or only for a limited time when they are in connectable mode. For example, with AnkhMaway beacons, make sure the mode has been set to ‘On’ either in the configuration app settings or via service/characteristic parameters.
Make sure the beacon is set to 0dBm transmit power (or higher) rather than a negative value that indicates the beacon is to transmit with reduced power.
Re-orient the beacon. Most beacons have antennas on the printed circuit board that have differing transmission characteristics depending on their orientation to the observer and whether they are shielded by other components such as the battery. Experiment with different orientations in each of the three dimensions.
Try a different observing device (phone). Different phones have different receiving characteristics.
Try at a different place. In rare circumstances, the area might be congested with 2.4GHz interference from other beacons, WiFi or other equipment. The area might have particular radio frequency (RF) blocking or reflective qualities.
If you can, try a different beacon of the same model to isolate whether it’s a faulty beacon.
The maximum specified range is rarely achieved for any beacon although there have been a cases where we have found beacons to be better than the specification.
All manufacturers, not just those whose beacons we sell, tend to specify the optimum range, outdoors, with no radio interference. You will experience reduced range indoors where there are radio reflections and obstacles. If you need a long range under all circumstances then we recommend you over-specify the beacon range and perhaps look at beacons with an ultra-long range.
Beacons allow you to set the transmit power to levels such as -30dBm, -20dBm, -16dBm, -12dBm, -8dBm, -4dBm, 0dBm and +4dBm. The number of actual setting values depends on the beacon. 0dbm is the default power recommended for normal use. Our article on Choosing the Transmitted Power explains these values and how they relate to distance.
We are often asked ‘What are the Estimated Distance/s for Tx Powers?’. This depends on the beacon, the environment and the receiver. An analogy is someone shouting a word. How loud does someone have to shout to be heard a certain distance? It depends on how clear the person shouts, how much noise there is and how well the person listening can hear. With beacons it depends on the beacon (mainly antenna) design, how much radio frequency (RF) noise there is, the degree of RF reflections, the receiving ability of the device (smartphone or gateway) you are using and even the weather.
The only way to determine the relationship between distance and power is experimentally and it will likely change over time as the environment changes.
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: FSC-BP103 – Inexpensive beacon that transmits up to 10 channels simultaneously:
Best for Features:M52-SA Plus – Large easy replaceable battery, long range, temperature, humidity, accelerometer:
Best for Battery Life:SmartBeacon-AA Pro – Allows use of 4x AA batteries. Use lithium AA batteries for 7+ year battery life (also depends on settings).
Best for Setup App:Minew range – Minew’s latest BeaconPlus range (those supporting both iBeacon and Eddystone) provides the best in class app.
We sometimes get asked how many connections an iBeacon can support? The answer is ‘1’ but it’s often the right answer to the wrong intended question. The intended question is usually “How many receivers can see a beacon?”
Beacons don’t usually connect. They just advertise and can be seen by an infinite number of receivers that include phones, gateways or single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi.
The receivers only usually connect once, during setup via an app, to set the initial iBeacon parameters. When connected, the beacon doesn’t advertise which prevents extra receivers from connecting. Once set up, the app disconnects and the beacon starts advertising again.
Some manufacturers offer SDKs to allow programmatic access to their beacons from iOS and Android.
Most SDKs tend to be poorly implemented/documented, tie your code into using that particular beacon and rarely get updated to use newer mobile platform APIs. They also tend to be thin abstractions over the Android and iOS Bluetooth APIs.
If you rely on a beacon manufacturer that doesn’t update their SDK, it’s eventually the case that the underlying Android and/or iOS API changes such that your solution becomes non-optimal and, in the worse case, breaks.
Instead, when you can, we recommend you use the iOS and Android Bluetooth APIs directly to make your code independent of the beacon type. In this way you don’t end up depending on intermediate code and this has the benefit that you can more easily change beacon providers.
However, there are some cases where you must use the manufacturer library. This is usually in cases where there the app needs to connect with the beacon (as opposed to only view advertising scans) to perform beacon specific things. The Sensoro SDK is an example where their private protocol (to prevent squatters) and sensor information can only be obtained via their SDK.
We get asked a lot which beacons are the most compatible. All beacons, whether iBeacon or Eddystone, are compatible with iOS and Android. There are a few ‘tracker’ type Bluetooth devices around that don’t transmit the right Bluetooth header and can’t be seen on iOS but we don’t sell those.
Almost all beacons are slight derivations of a few standard circuit designs and firmware provided by Texas Instruments, Dialog and Nordic who produce the System On a Chip (SoC) inside beacons. Hence, they all transmit to Bluetooth standards.
The main areas where beacons differ is not in compatibility but in physical characteristics such as battery size and waterproofing that are to be found as categories at the left hand side of our store.
One thing people don’t realise is that problems occur with phone compatibility rather than beacon compatibility. Over time, we have discovered about 5% of our customers have problems getting the Manufacturer’s configuration to app connect to beacons on Android. To be clear, this is only when apps need to connect (to change settings) as opposed to only scan for beacons so this doesn’t tend to be a problem (for end users) once everything is set up.
To answer the question, Bluetooth standards are such that all beacons can be seen on all phones and compatibility isn’t an issue. Problems we have seen have been related to phones rather than beacons. We have never had a beacon returned to us because it’s incompatible.
“Where Can I Find a Beacon Solution that Does xyz?”
Where xyz could be one of many things. Unfortunately, we don’t have a full knowledge of what’s out there, particularly because it’s continually changing.
We maintain a BeaconZone Solutions Directory where we list solutions we have found in the categories of marketing/retail, industry/logistics, buildings/staff, visitor spaces, transportation, education and personal.
You might wonder whether USB beacons can be used to enable desktops/laptops or any USB device to receive beacon transmissions.
USB beacons don’t work this way and only use the USB connection for power. A few such as the Minew U1 have UART USB serial support that can be used to control the beacon but it still doesn’t detect beacons. It beacon only sends and doesn’t receive.
What you need is a ‘Sniffer’ such as the ABSniffer 528. It scans for Bluetooth devices and sends the data via USB to the device powering it.
Alternatively, look for a standard Bluetooth dongle that that supports Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and an associated programming API for ESP32, Raspberry Pi, Windows or Linux.