USB Beacons for Fixed Installations

Beacons are often placed in shops, offices and other buildings for detection in smartphone apps. Battery powered beacons last from months to years depending on the size of the battery and the transmission power (adjustable). The compromise between battery life and physical range can be avoided if USB beacons are used instead.

USB beacons are powered from an available wallsocket, laptop, desktop or other standard USB socket. Alternatively, they can be powered using an inexpensive mains charger used to charge a smartphone or other device. Powering from the mains allows the beacon to be permanently set to full power with no worry about checking or changing the battery.

The use of mains power also allows for use of specialist beacons that output the maximium legally allowed (Class 1) power that wouldn’t be feasible using battery power.

The FSC-BP109 can be received up to 1000m on Android and 4000m on iOS.

View USB beacons

New Bluetooth Range Extender

Nordic Semiconductor, the manufacturer of the System on a Chip (SoC) inside most beacons, has announced a new Bluetooth Range Extender the nRF21540.

It’s an electronic component to be used at the SoC output to amplify the signal prior to being sent to the antenna. We expect this to be included in some future long range beacon designs. However, note that it uses more current (115 mA at +20 dBm) so is less suitable for use in coin-cell based battery powered designs.

Our ultra long range beacons already use RF amplifiers but from different component manufacturers. For example the iB003N-PA uses a RFAXIS X2401C chip to achieve up to 300m range. The FSC-BP109 also uses an output amplifier to reach up to 1000m on Android and 4000m on iOS but this beacon requires USB power.

New Moko H2 in Stock

We have the new Moko H2 in stock. In many ways it’s visually, mechanically and settings-wise similar to the Minew i7 with which it shares some DNA. It is essentially a less expensive i7.

It advertises iBeacon, is waterproof to IP67, uses the Nordic nRF52 for 5+ years battery life with default settings, has a side on/off switch and can reach up to 100m if you set the power to maximum.

New Minew E2 in Stock

We have the new Minew E2 in stock. It’s a waterproof beacon advertising iBeacon and Eddystone.

What’s special about this beacon is the 10+ year battery life that comes through using the power efficient Nordic nRF52 SoC and 4 AA batteries. The in-use battery life will depend on settings.

This beacon also has a power amplifier that provides for an exceptional range of up to 500m. However, as with any long range beacon, the maximum range is achieved only when there’s line of sight.

Bluetooth 5 Simultaneous Multiple PHY

If you have been following our posts on Bluetooth 5, you might be wondering how one Bluetooth device can communicate to many devices, some of which might be legancy Bluetooth 4.

There’s a new video from Nordic Semiconductor (who produce the System on a Chip – SoC – inside most beacons) where the new long range mode is used while connecting to up to 20 devices. These can be different PHYs meaning that different capabilities, for example high speed vs long range vs legacy) can be connected at the same time.

New Long Range 210L Beacon

We just received the 210L ultra-long 200m range beacon into stock.

Most beacons tend to have a range of 30m, 50m or 100m. The normal output is 0dBm but they can be boosted to +4dBm to achieve the maximum ranges. Read our article on Choosing the Transmitted Power for more information.

The 210L beacon transmits at +10dBM which is the maximum allowable for this class of Bluetooth 4 device. This is just over 3x the power of a beacon transmitting at 0dBm. Hence, there’s respective reduction in battery life.

View our ultra-long range beacons

Feasycom FSC-BP109 Back in Stock

We have the Feasycom FSC-BP109 long range beacon back in stock.

This Bluetooth Class 1, CE RED certified beacon transmits, iBeacon and Eddystone, between 1000m and 4000m depending on the receiving device.

There are new iOS and Android apps that allow up to 10 channels that can transmit anything: Eddystone-UID, Eddystone-URL, iBeacon or AltBeacon. You can still set up by sending AT commands through the laptop/desktop USB com port opening up the possibility of the advertising changing programmatically over time, for scenarios such as changing media displays.

This beacon is especially suitable for large open areas such as stadiums where it can replace 10s or 100s of beacons with shorter range.

Beacon Range Insights

Beacons vary in their range. The smaller battery beacons tend to have smaller 30m to 50m ranges to make the most of battery life. Larger battery beacons tend to have ranges up to 100m. Then there’s longer range beacons with ranges over 150m.

One thing to understand is what can block signals. In our experience, when a signal gets blocked, there’s no point trying beacons with longer ranges in the hope they will push the signal through the physical obstructions. Longer range beacons only work long range when there is unobstructed line of sight.

Transport Information System Learnings

There’s a recent article on ZDNet on Smartphones, Bluetooth beacons: The pairing that could help the blind catch the right bus. After weeks of testing, the city of Strasbourg in France is now ready to rollout a smartphone-based transport information system. 1,400 beacons at libraries, tourist spots and bus stops allow users to interact with city locations on their smartphones.

Two interesting issues with the initial trial were:

  • Slow detection time meant users at bus stops were being notified too late
  • Placing beacons behind the windscreens of busses, the 80m range wasn’t sufficient

While the article doesn’t explain how the slow detection time was solved we suspect it had something to do with the app having to connect to get information. This information might have been bus information or something to do with the beacon platform. Caching information or turning off advanced functionality that required the app to connect will have solved the problem. Alternatively, it could have been that the time between beacon advertising was too long preventing it from being picked up quickly by the app.

The 80m range was solved by configuring the beacons to be more powerful and transmit to 160 meters. Unless the beacon was already transmitting at less than normal (0dBm) power it wouldn’t have been possible to double the range by re-configuring the power. Most beacons go up to +4dBm which, while providing over double the power, wouldn’t have doubled the range. It’s more likely they had to use a different beacon with integrated power amplifier such as those in our Ultra Long Range.