iBeacon Technology 101

What is iBeacon, how does it work, transmission range, iBeacon cost (and more).

Bluetooth beacons

Proximity marketing

Eddystone and iBeacon

iBeacon basics

Bluetooth Marketing

When you start your research for boosting engagement and sales for physical stores, a technology that stands out is Bluetooth beacons! And once you dive in, you are quickly exposed to iBeacon, Eddystone, BLE beacons etc - this can naturally be overwhelming for a beginner. Let’s take these terms one-at-a-time - and begin with iBeacon technology.

What is iBeacon?

Apple introduced the iBeacon protocol at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013. iBeacon opened doors to a host of opportunities for location-data and proximity marketing. This protocol enables seamless interactivity between iOS and Android devices, and an iBeacon hardware, such as BLE beacons.

iBeacon technology has been empowering businesses by letting them welcome customers, provide location-relevant information and promote ongoing offers. iBeacon compliant beacons allow smartphones to detect BLE signals and display the notifications and campaigns linked to them.

iBeacon and beacon are not the same things!

Although iBeacon and beacon are used interchangeably they are not at all the same thing. Beacons are physical devices that are powered by Bluetooth Low Energy technology whereas iBeacon is a protocol or a way to transmit data.

What is iBeacon proximity marketing?

Proximity marketing is essentially a marketing strategy that entails sending hyper-local contextual information. Say, someone is passing by a car dealership and gets information about the recently revealed prices for a newly-launched luxury car brand via the iBeacon installed in the store. That is a classic example of proximity marketing. Proximity marketing using iBeacons can also be used to engage, drive more traffic, offer promotions and rewards and gamify the user experience.

Working of ibeacon proximity marketing

How does Apple’s iBeacon technology work?

Apple’s iBeacon technology enables beacons running on the iBeacon protocol to broadcast a serial ID number. This signal needs to be picked up by a relevant app on the phone. Without an app, it is not possible to have the smartphone scan for a signal. The standard iBeacon for BLE advertising contains 4 pieces of crucial information which is -

  1. Unique Universal Identifier (UUID): This UUID tells you general information about the beacon such as who it belongs to or the name of the business that is using it.
  2. Major: This conveys the beacon’s general location. For example, this beacon is located in the store#11.
  3. Minor: This lets you know about the beacon’s detailed location. For example, this beacon is located in aisle 5.
  4. Tx Power: This refers to the strength of the signal. This can be used to determine the proximity of devices from the beacon.

Devices compatible with iBeacon

iBeacon for iOS

On iOS devices, it is imperative that a relevant app is installed. This is the only way the iBeacon protocol can communicate with iOS devices. This app could be a brand app or a popular third-party app. If you want to run campaigns for iOS devices but do not have an app, consider using Nearbee, an app designed to broadcast proximity marketing notifications on iOS devices.

iBeacon for Android

On Android devices too, a relevant app must be installed. However, using the Eddystone protocol (another beacon protocol that Beaconstac supports) can allow notifications to be sent without an app. This is possible due to the Google Nearby (UPDATE: Nearby Notifications will no longer be supported on Android smartphones after December 6 2018. Please read this blog post to understand how you can continue running proximity marketing campaigns through beacons).

iBeacon range: How far can these beacons transmit?

On average iBeacon beacons transmit up to 70 meters or 230 feet. However, some forms of beacons, like long-range beacons transmit as far as 300 metres or 984 feet. Depending on the use case, different beacons can be deployed.

Here’s a list of iBeacon compliant beacons with their corresponding transmission ranges and other deciding factors like battery life, recommended use cases and cost.

How does iBeacon determine the smartphone’s location?

iBeacon hardware does not determine the location of a smartphone. It is a merely a Bluetooth transmitter. Compatible apps on iOS devices scan for iBeacon signals and display the corresponding notification on the lock screen.

How much do iBeacon compliant beacons cost?

The average cost of an iBeacon compliant beacon is USD 23. The cost of iBeacon compliant beacons depends on the manufacturer, the transmission range (or the signal range) and the form factor of the beacon. If you choose to purchase beacons in bulk, the price significantly reduces.

How to get started with iBeacon campaigns?

As a business owner or a marketer, you can kickstart your ibeacon-based proximity marketing infrastructure in a couple of ways -

  1. Buy iBeacon compliant beacon hardware from a vendor

    The beacon market is flooded with vendors selling iBeacon compliant beacons. Most of these vendors also provide a software to manage the fleet of beacons - monitor battery status, transmission range etc.

    Once you buy these beacons, the next step is to build a platform that enables you to create campaigns, notifications and lets you assign them to the beacon. This obviously requires extensive development efforts. Given the resource limitations that most small and medium businesses have, this is not the most cost-effective way to set-up an iBeacon campaign.

  2. Invest in an end-to-end beacon solution

    Alternatively, investing in an end-to-end beacon solution that includes, hardware, an app to manage and monitor the hardware, platform to create campaigns and monitor the performance of the campaign, is much more cost-effective. Most of the marketers and business owners prefer to invest in a unified solution, like Beaconstac, rather than building the solution in parts which usually takes over a couple of years.

Read more about buying beacons off an e-commerce store vs investing in an end-to-end beacon solution.

What are the latest iBeacon use-cases/applications?

iBeacon technology is employed across several different verticals for various unique use-cases. Some of them are explained below -

  1. Asset Tracking: iBeacon technology has made leaps and bounds especially when it comes to asset tracking. Large enterprises have started employing iBeacon compliant beacons to track assets.
  2. Indoor Navigation: Apple iBeacon technology is frequently used to improve navigation inside universities, shopping malls, and airports. Even NASA has attached iBeacon hardware to their on-campus bicycles to improve navigation and keep a track on all their bicycles.
  3. Digital Scavenger Hunts: iBeacon technology is also employed when devising digital scavenger hunts in shopping malls or by local businesses to increase foot traffic.

Some of the brands using iBeacon technology today

  1. Apple: It is not surprising to note that Apple uses iBeacon technology in all of its retail stores. Using the Apple iBeacon, they are able to send customers information about their order status, repair and Genius bar appointments.
  2. Macy’s: Macy’s rolled out iBeacon hardware in all of its stores to send coupons, discounts and product recommendations to their customers.
  3. Sephora: Sephora rolled out BLE beacons in all its stores to improve in-store customer experience and reward its loyal customers. The Sephora’s app also prompts shoppers if they have added a product to their cart and it is available in the store that they are in.
iBeacon proximity marketing with app