Introduction to iBeacon

iBeacon is a protocol developed by Apple and introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013. Various vendors have since made iBeacon-compatible hardware transmitters – typically called beacons – a class of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices that broadcast their identifier to nearby portable electronic  devices. The technology enables smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon.

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A iBeacon transmits signals which allows another device to determine its proximity to the broadcaster. In a store, a beacon lets a customer’s app determine that it’s close to a particular aisle, or in a particular department. The beacon doesn’t transmit content, it simply transmits a signal that lets a user’s phone or tablet figure out what its proximity is to the beacon.

iBeacon is based on Bluetooth Low Energy proximity sensing by transmitting a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system. The identifier and several bytes sent with it can be used to determine the device’s physical location, track customers, or trigger a location-based action on the device such as a check-in on social media or a push notification.

iBeacon can also be used with an application as an indoor positioning system, which helps smartphones determine their approximate location or context. With the help of an iBeacon, a smartphone’s software can approximately find its relative location to an iBeacon in a store. Brick and Mortar retail stores use the beacons for mobile commerce, offering customers special deals through mobile marketing, and can enable mobile payments through point of sale systems.

An iBeacon deployment consists of one or more iBeacon devices that transmit their own unique identification number to the local area. Software on a receiving device may then look up the iBeacon and perform various functions, such as notifying the user. Receiving devices can also connect to the iBeacons to retrieve values from iBeacon’s GATT (generic attribute profile) service. iBeacons do not push notifications to receiving devices (other than their own identity). However, mobile software can use signals received from iBeacons to trigger their own push notifications.

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The frequency of the iBeacon transmission depends on the configuration of the iBeacon and can be altered using device specific methods. Both the rate and the transmit power have an effect on the iBeacon battery life. iBeacons come with predefined settings and several of them can be changed by the developer. Amongst others the rate and the transmit power can be changed as well as the Major and Minor values. The Major and Minor values are settings which can be used to connect to specific iBeacons or to work with more than one iBeacon at the same time. Typically, multiple iBeacon deployment at a venue will share the same UUID, and use the major and minor pairs to segment and distinguish sub spaces within the venue. For example, the Major values of all the iBeacons in a specific store can be set to the same value and the Minor value can be used to identify a specific iBeacon within the store.

The above mentioned are some of the key factors of iBeacon.

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