Configuring a beacon

by André Esteves

The lessons learned that will help to best configure an iBeacon.


iBeacons are now being used across several sectors to help and provide better user engagement experiences. Although it is not limited to that, iBeacons can also be used to provide indoor navigation, trigger specific content when passed by a specific location within a (shopping mall,museum, library,etc), among other less user oriented cases (analytics, telemetry). From this point on I will refer to an iBeacon as a beacon.

But to configure a beacon to provide the best experience actually depends on several factors that can influence how the beacon will work. Those factors range from the actual environment where they are going to be placed, choosing the best time interval, optimising the transmission power and the beacon ID.

The proximity UUID (Universally Unique Identifier, UUID for short), Major, and Minor values together make the beacon unique identifier, and they are the key components of all advertising packets continually transmitted by a beacon. In other words, beacons don’t broadcast content, and their IDs don’t carry any message. By using our platform, your app will be using a random unique identifier and using that, you can then choose what content to display when the user passes by the beacon that have that same identifier. In short, your app will take the beacon ID and make it meaningful.

When choosing a UUID we need to make sure we don’t use the one that usually comes with the beacons because someone might already be using it and you don’t want someone else beacons to trigger your app. You can generate random UUID by simply searching for a UUID generator online. I will not recommend one in specific since they all do what they say.

Major and Minor values can be used to be more specific about the beacon location, let’s say for instance that your are a museum and you have a single UUID for all beacons you can then say that the Major value 4560 is ground floor and 4561 is first floor and you can use the Minor value to specify different exhibitions or areas within that floor (3456 for dinosaurs area, 3457 for medieval era exhibition, etc).

To resume UUID,Major and Minor, their importance is about the understanding of your beacon deployment strategy, meaning that it will be easy to deploy and configure the beacons if you know what ID values they have. A beacon identifier is generally composed by:

  • UUID: EE07488B-F4E2-4EF2-BB65-F38B05C9AB0C
  • Major: 4560
  • Minor: 3456

The settings you choose for Transmission Power and Interval will have a large impact on how your beacon network operates. Choosing the most practical and efficient settings is greatly determined by your specific needs and use case.

The most common reason to change the transmitted power is to influence battery life or to change the range to purposely make it cover a very small or a very large area. As you might expect, making your transmission more powerful will increase the range of your signal, however, that will shorten your battery life. The only time I change that was because we had a small space with two particular contents that were very close to which other.

  1. If you need the signal range to be as wide as possible in a high traffic area, use the max power value and install the beacon roughly 2 meters up from the floor, to reduce interference from people walking by.
  2. If you only need the beacon to be detected a few meters or several feet away use a lower power value.
  3. Always be mindful of “line-of-sight” i.e. that in general, there are no objects in between a beacon and the customer’s smartphone.
  4. If getting “line-of-sight” is impossible or impractical, try to make sure these objects are not too heavy or dense e.g. thick steel panels or brick walls between the beacon and the smartphone.

Beacons advertise data repeatedly over time. The rate at which this happens is determined by the advertising interval, in milliseconds (ms, 1000ms = 1 second). If you set the advertising interval to say 100ms, the advertising data will be sent every 100ms which is 10 times every second. Remember that the lower you set the advertising interval, the more power the beacon uses over time and hence the greater the battery use. Apple recommends a time interval of 100ms but in my experience that is too much and I get good results using an interval between 250ms and 400ms.

Talking about the environment in which the beacons are going to be deployed, I must say that don’t stick them into metal poles, glass surfaces or behind concrete walls (this one is my favourite…) as those surfaces will interfere with the signal and possibly block it, causing a bad/inexistent experience for the user.

These are the factors that in my opinion need a good look before/while deploying beacons. I hope you enjoyed my opinions and experiences and if you feel that you wanna talk more please do drop me an email at andre.esteves@flo-culture.com to discuss it further.

 


Published by:
André Esteves

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