Beacons, IoT and Transport Monitoring

Beacons are often mentioned as being IoT devices. IoT devices tend to measure and monitor performance and store data in some Big Data way. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and Technical University of Denmark have a paper on Combining Smartphone and iBeacon Technologies in a Transit Quality Survey.

Their proof of concept shows how, what looks like a transport end-user survey, can be additionally used to track service data and monitor performance on transit trips.

The paper has a few insights into the use of beacons. They found that the RSSI and proximity accuracy were affected by the number of people in the surrounding environment such that it was best to place the beacons at high positions at bus stops. They also found they needed to explictly ask users to manually enable Bluetooth on their phones.

They also consider problems that will be experienced if the proof of concept were to be scaled, in particular the dependency on having a wide set of beacon-equipped stops.

If the ultimate vision is to develop a platform for a city’s entire bus network, it may be impractical to install and maintain iBeacons at every bus stop.

There’s also mention of the need for more effective incentives to sustain participation, such as offering reward points or fare discounts.

Is iBeacon Still Used?

You might have stumbled across comments on social media saying something like ‘Is iBeacon still used?’, ‘Remember iBeacon’ or ‘Is iBeacon still a thing?’. It’s a question that tends to crop up now and then. The truth is, iBeacon technology is not only still around, but it has flourished and evolved, becoming integral to various industries.

When Apple first introduced iBeacon technology back in 2013, it was mainly designed for retail notifications. At the time, it seemed like an interesting innovation, enabling stores to communicate with their customers via their smartphones. But, in reality, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the last decade, beacons have evolved from a technology used exclusively in retail stores to one that’s employed across a multitude of industries. The technology has seen enhancements and adaptations, moving well beyond simple notifications and sales promotions.

One of the most significant adaptations of iBeacon technology has been in real-time locating systems (RTLS). Used to track objects and people within confined areas, this technology has made its mark in industries like healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics. Hospitals, for instance, utilise RTLS to monitor equipment and patient movement, reducing waiting times and improving efficiency.

Sensors have become more sophisticated with the help of beacons. From monitoring environmental conditions to tracking health metrics, these smart Bluetooth beacons are integral in gathering vital information. Think of applications such as monitoring temperatures in office buildings or tracking the temperature and humidity in agricultural settings.

IoT represents a world where everyday objects are connected to the internet, sharing information and interacting with each other. Beacons play a pivotal role here, together with gateways. Whether it’s smart homes adapting to your preferences or industrial equipment notifying operators of required maintenance, the applications are boundless.

What began as a way for retailers to send notifications to shoppers in a store has become a technology with applications that stretch as far as the imagination. The beacons of today is more sophisticated, more versatile and more integral to modern life.

So the next time someone on social media questions the relevance of iBeacon, you’ll know the answer is not only a resounding ‘yes,’ but a testament to how far a single technology can evolve.

View Bluetooth beacons

Which Beacons to Buy?

There’s an old, yet pertinent, post at Hotel Online, by Dr. Michael Arner is the Chief Technology Officer of RoamingAround, on How Do You Choose Which Beacons to Have Faith In? The article questions the merits of being tied in to a particular supplier’s hardware or software features.

The article gives the opinions:

“If you’re a beacon merchant, I suppose it’s great to have clients that are willing to shackle themselves to your super-special hardware, but if you’re the consumer, it’s usually best to avoid doing so when you can.”

“In reality, iOS and Android devices can both speak to both protocols and there are very few reasons why you shouldn’t be choosing a solution that’s beacon agnostic.”

Regarding security:

“There exist beacons which maintain proprietary end-to-end encryption, and these should be purchased, in the very rare case they’re needed”

On Customer service:

“Multiply-source your vendors and then you’ll discover that the decisive factor ends up being not the device stats but the customer service”

There’s also the issue of longevity. Since the article was written, many beacon SAAS platforms with tied hardware have ceased to be in business.

Summarising the advice in the article, look beyond what’s being offered or promoted by vendors. They will always be promoting their unique selling points but those might not actually be the decisive factors for your project.

Read about the advantages of generic beacons

Using Beacons for Intelligent In-Room Presence Detection

Most Beacon usecases involve putting beacons on things or in places and triggering notifications on users’ phones. There’s a paper by Yang Yang, Zhouchi Li and Kaveh Pahlavan of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, MA that instead proposes Using iBeacon for Intelligent In-Room Presence Detection.

Their system records users in a room for applications such as graduate seminar check-in, security and in and out counting. It recognises in room presence by analysing path loss and door motion readings to decide whether a person is inside the room. Their custom app receives the beacon data and sends it to a server for analysis. They experimented using two iBeacons, one attached to the outside of the door with another mirroring at the inside and also as single iBeacon implementation that still performed well.


The paper also a useful chart showing the variation of RSSI with how a phone is held:


3 Things to Consider when Planning a Bluetooth Beacon Deployment


The primary consideration when siting beacons is the location. Beacons work best when there’s a line of sight. If the beacons are static and received by devices such as smartphones then the best position is higher up where they won’t be blocked. If the beacons are moving, the receiver, for example a gateway, is best placed overhead. When thinking about the location of static beacons, also consider camouflaging them or placing them out of reach so that they don’t become victim to theft.


Think about how you will attach the beacons. Many beacons come with a strong double sided 3M-branded tape. While this can work, the glue or underlying surface can fail in the long term due to the affects of heat and moisture. Also, it can be difficult to remove or replace a beacon in the shorter term without damaging the surface decoration.

i3 has lugs for screw fixing

Tidier methods include screwing to the surface or plastic tie fixing that can be more suitable for attaching to some types of structure.


Although batteries can last years, think about how how battery levels will be measured and the physical and IT processes needed to replace a beacon.

FSC-BP103 Advertises Battery Level

The ease of physical maintenance is also related to beacon location and how they have been attached.

Beacons and Driving

We are seeing more and more customers using beacons in driving-related scenarios. Most are using beacons to trigger when the user gets into or out of a vehicle. For example, driversnote tracks your trips ready for your mileage claim. However, apps such as this are for personal use and there’s a larger market and opportunity in company/fleet management. For example, mileagecount has an automated mileage capture system based on beacons.

The key thing here is that beacons are being used to trigger something, mileage capture in this case. It’s automated, unobtrusive and doesn’t necessarily produce app notifications. There’s a very large number of similar usecases in other industries waiting to be explored.

Beacons and Innovation

We receive many enquiries for complete solutions that don’t yet exist. While we have a solutions directory, most current solutions tend to require solving a particular problem in a particular industry. In most cases the people enquiring don’t have the budget for a one-off custom solution.

There’s plenty of scope for new innovative solutions based on beacons for re-selling to others. However, creating new systems based predominantly on beacons is costly and risky. Instead, it’s often better to beacon-enable existing systems that have been tried and tested.

The systems we are finding doing this at the moment are mainly security related. However, there’s a large number of enterprise systems that could benefit from extra features provided by beacons. Doing so is less risky and more likely to be successful as it builds on something that’s already being used. Another observation is that when companies do this, they sometimes realise they have actually implemented their first IoT system.

Match Use of Beacons to Organisations’ Goals

As we have previously mentioned, we believe too many companies chase the beacon retail marketing bandwagon when there are more compelling uses for beacons. These other uses also often have much less commercial competition. Think outside the current common usecases. Instead, invent new uses that better match organisations’ goals.

One such example is mentioned in the article Can Big Data Make for Better Exhibitions? Unlike the run of the mill, “let’s tag items and show information on them”, The Art Institute of Chicago used beacons to create heat maps, travel paths and derive dwell times to determine which parts of the museum people really want to see. The museum uses beacons for analytics. Promoting popular parts of the museum brought them an uplift in paid attendance from $14.8 million to $19.9 million. This success is based on concentrating on the museum’s real need of more income.

Start with your needs rather than the technology. Think in terms of your current challenges and work out how IT, in general, might be used to quantify the problem. Analytics will help you narrow in on specific areas that, in turn, can be improved and hence better achieve the organisation’s goals.

Physically Attractive Beacons

One mistake some projects make is to choose physically attractive beacons. Some manufacturers make their beacons look attractive to try to secure more sales. However, in use in some scenarios, the beacons can become attractive to thieves or children and become lost.

We once had a train transport customer ask “What’s your most unattractive beacon ?”


Brightly coloured beacons can invite thieves


Small black boxes remain anonymous