What’s the Affect of Changing the Power on the iB003N-PA?

The iB003N-PA has a range up to 300m because it uses the RFAXIS X2401C 2.4GHz amplifier to increase the range.

iB003N-PA

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:

SoC Setting X2401C Output
0dbm 20dBm
4dbm 20dBm
-5dbm 15dBm
-10dbm 10dBm

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.

View our ultra long range beacons

Long Range Beacons Don’t Solve Blocking Problems

We coincidentally had two customers last week with the same query and the same resolution. They wanted to know why their ultra long range beacons weren’t achieving the expected range.

It turns out both customers where expecting the beacons to transmit through obstacles. It’s important to understand what can block signals. 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 such as in a large warehouse or event space.

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

What is Beacon Measured Power?

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.

Read more about transmitted power (as opposed to measured power)

Hide Your Beacons!

There’s a useful new article by Martin Bryant on Lessons learned from an experiment to transform Manchester’s local news. One of the insights was:

“A few beacons went missing in the first week”

People will steal beacons even if they are password protected and can’t be re-used. They don’t know they are useless and steal them anyway.

We once had a strange request from the UK Police to supply our “ugliest beacons”. In some situations, the requirement is for beacons that will blend into the environment rather than advertise their presence visually. While high visibility, attractive beacons might be great for proof of concepts and demos, in the real world beacons that blend into their environment work best.

There’s often a temptation to hide beacons behind things. However, beware of blocking the radio signal and hence reducing the range. We had a client use beacons in a stadium and they painted them to camouflage them from view. Hide your beacons, but don’t block the signal.

What’s the Best Beacon?

Too many potential customers contact us asking what’s the least expensive beacon that provides the best range, the best battery life and the smallest size. Unfortunately, all these things are related. You need a larger battery to provide enough power for a longer range. A large battery implies a larger beacon size. A larger battery and case implies a more expensive beacon.

Instead, you should take a look at your project/scenario and determine what really is the most important factor and use that as a starting point.

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.

What are the Estimated Distances for Tx Powers?

Beacons allow you to set the transmit power to levels such as -30dBm, -20dBm, -16dBm, -12dBm, -08dBm, -04dBm, 0dBm and +4dBm. The number of actual setting values depends on the beacon. Our article on Choosing the Transmitted Power explains these values and how they relate to distance.

We have been 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 and the receiving ability of the device (smartphone or gateway) you are using.

The only way to determine the relationship between distance and power is experimentally and it will likely change over time as the environment changes.

Sensoro Micro Location

A unique feature of Sensoro beacons is that they have a patented dual antenna. Usually beacons only have one antenna and it’s difficult if not impossible to fine tune the beacon to a very short range. Minimum ranges tend to be of the order of metres.

Sensoro 4AA

Sensoro’s dual antenna provides what they call ‘micro location’ and together with the larger number of (12) power levels, provides short ranges down to 5cm to 15cm. This allows for very short range scenarios such as payment, loyalty redemption and ‘check in’ type security applications.