While the latest power efficient SoC beacons can make more of the available battery power you might want to consider not using batteries at all so as to ease maintenance.
USB powered beacons run from any USB socket and can be plugged into other hardware such as desktops or used with any inexpensive plug-in mains USB power supply available for a few pound/dollars/euros. However, the location of the antenna so close to the desktop or power supply can cause the range and Bluetooth radio signal spread to be compromised. Some USB beacons solve this problem by using an external dipole antenna.
The Bluetooth (Class 1) standard has a maximum output power of 20dBm. (Read our article for explanation of power). Many beacons don’t use this maximum as it would quickly flatten the battery. Most only allow up to +4dBm, +6dBm or +8dBm. In most cases battery beacons are set to operate at 0dBm. An advantage of USB powered beacons is that they can emit more power than is practical with a battery. For example, the the FSC-BP109 up to 4000m.
The iB005N-SMA is no longer manufactured and has been replaced with the S1-SMA.
The S1 USB doesn’t use batteries and instead uses USB for power. The USB isn’t used to set up the beacon and the manufacturer smartphone app, via Bluetooth, is used instead. The ‘SMA’ means it has an external rather than PCB antenna which moves the antenna away from the device supplying the USB power thus providing better Bluetooth radio signal and longer range. The S1 is also available without an external antenna.
We have a few iB005N-SMA remaining in stock of you particularly need that model.
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.
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.
Mr Beacon has an informative new video interview with Janette Smrcka, Information Technology Director at Mall of America. They use beacons to allow visitors to navigate across 520 stores on 5 levels, spanning 4.3 miles and over 5.6 million square feet.
Watch the video to learn about WiFi vs Bluetooth wayfinding and the advantages of mains as opposed to battery powered beacons. You will also learn how Mall of America’s beacon network might eventually be used to track mall assets and for location-based site maintenance.
We have a selection of beacons that are powered from USB. However, up until now, very few of them have been controllable via USB.
We now stock the Minew U1 that has a CP2104 USB Serial converter that causes the device to show as a serial COM port device. This allows you to control it from other devices such as PCs, laptops, Linux or Android, as well as from the iOS/Android apps.
Why might you want to do this? Scenarios such as use with digital signage and video walls in shopping malls and stadiums sometimes need the beacon advertising to change in real-time as the display information changes. UART connected beacons allows the beacon advertising to be changed by the host device.
Beacons not only provide the opportunity for easier purchasing, via apps, from vending machines but also facilitate reward programmes and targeted contextual content based on the user’s location.
Vending machine companies contacting us are asking the usual questions regarding range and size. However, a more specific requirement is the ability to be mains powered. One way to achieve this is to use a smartphone-type USB mains adapter (offering a standard USB socket) and a USB beacon. Alternatively, the vending machine hardware might already have, or be able to be fitted with, a USB slot.