Differences in Beacon System on a Chip (SoC)

You can find the processor chip in the specification section of our beacon descriptions. Most people don’t know what this means or implies. This article will help you make a more informed choice.

nRF51822 in a round beacon

There are currently three main chip families from Texas Instruments (CC25xx, CC26xx), Dialog Semiconductor (DAxxxx) and Nordic Semiconductor (nRF51xxx and nRF52xxx). These chip manufacturers publish standard electronic circuits and software SDKs that beacon OEMs use for their beacons. Hence, most beacons, within a chip family, have very similar designs. Small differences in implementation of board layout in areas such as the power supply, grounding, terminations, connectors and the antenna can cause electrical differences that can cause loss of power.

The strength of the beacon radio signal is affected more by the quality of the beacon implementation, particularly the antenna, rather than the choice of chip. This is also evident in real world tests. We have performed RSSI strength and stability tests on the beacons we sell and haven’t yet found any correlation between signal strength and chip family.

The choice of SoC affects battery use. Newer chip families such as the Nordic nRF52 (as opposed to nRF51) and Texas Instruments CC2640 (as opposed to CC2541) are more power efficient.

Most beacon SoCs transmit up to +4dBm output power for a longer range. A few such as the nRF52840 and CC2640RF can be set to higher output power of +8dBm and +5dBM respectively, with a consequent reduction of battery life. If you are looking for longer range, it’s more usual to use a long range beacon with an additional output amplifier chip.

The newer SoCs have much more memory. This isn’t used for most beacons except for those that store data.

The use of standard SoC manufacturer designs and software means that all beacons work well, adhere to Bluetooth standards and compatibility is never a problem.

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.

New Radioland NRF52832 beacon in stock

We have the new Radioland NRF52832 beacon in stock. Along with the iB002M and i7 (Eddystone), these use the nRF52 rather than nRF51 series of Nordic System on a Chip (SoC). nRF52 is more power efficient and provides twice the memory for more ambitious scenarios such as mesh networking.

The Radioland NRF52832 is the first beacon we have supplied unprogrammed. It’s for R&D users creating their own solutions. You will need to create your own firmware using the Nordic SDKs. The pinout for programming is available in our product description.

Open Source Eddystone Beacon Firmware

Google has just open sourced firmware that implements Eddystone on Nordic nRF SoC beacons. Their aim is to get wider distribution of Eddystone beacons and also encourage other devices, for example vending machines and remote control toys, beyond just beacons. This open source release is intended for manufacturers rather than end users. However, hobbyists might also use the software to re-program currently available Nordic-based beacons.

By providing reference software, it should make it easier for manufacturers to support Eddystone. Also, as this implements the Eddystone Configuration GATT Service, beacons using this software will also be configurable via the Web Bluetooth Configuration Page. The standard GATT Service also allows common configuration apps to be used such as the Nordic nRF Connect app rather than having to rely on specific manufacturer configuration apps.

So far, take up of the Eddystone Configuration GATT Service by manufacturers has been slow. Only one of our manufacturers, Sensoro, supports the Eddystone Configuration GATT Service and when you use this mode iBeacon and all Sensoro-specific features get turned off. This is the problem for manufacturers. Not many people want Eddystone-only beacons so manufacturing them is currently a low volume specialist edge case for manufacturers. Also, while Google is trying to standardise firmware and configuration, the higher profile beacon providers probably think it’s in their interest to continue with proprietary features that lock users into using those particular features and their particular platforms.

UPDATE: We now stock a version of the i7 that supports the Eddystone GATT Service.

Radioland Beacons in Stock

We now stock the range of Radioland beacons. They are mainly PCB (no case beacons) suitable for experimentation, reprogramming or putting inside other projects. They are particularly small (25mm diameter) and the default firmware transmits iBeacon. There’s an Android app to change the iBeacon parameters.

rl-cc2640_smaller

The beacon comes in the three main System on a Chip (SoC) types: Texas Instruments CC2541, CC2640 and Nordic nRF51822. The CC2640 is especially interesting as it’s a newer, more efficient SoC offering very low power with a longer range.

New Low Power Bluetooth LE SoC from Toshiba

The type of System on a Chip (SoC) can greatly affect beacon battery life. At one time it was only Dialog that had low power SoCs. TI, NXP and Nordic followed and now Toshiba has joined them with their new TC35678FSG, TC35678FXG and TC35679FSG (PDF).

Toshiba has more information on these products.
The BeaconZone store has a special category for low power SoC beacons.