Getting started with iBeacon Hardware

September 24, 2014

iBeacon and Bluetooth LE devices got off to a confusing start. Firstly, the terms Bluetooth LE, beacon and iBeacon seem to be interchangeable and new beacons are released all the time. This blog acts as your resource in understanding beacons and gives some insight on how beacons can be used.

Easy definitions

Let's kick this off with some straightforward definitions:

  • Beacons: A device that transmits a signal is called a beacon. This signal determines how close a device is to a broadcaster. In a real life example, a beacon can alert an app that it is close to the wine aisle, or bread aisle and so on. A beacon does not transfer content per se, but transmit a signal that lets your smartphone or tablet know the proximity to the beacon. This may be followed with a coupon delivered to the user's app, but the beacon does not send this, the app does.
  • Bluetooth LE (Low Energy): This is a type of signal that a beacon transmits. Beacons can transmit other types of signals but Bluetooth LE is low energy and familiar to many smartphones and tablets.
  • iBeacon: iBeacon is a term trademarked by Apple and is regularly used interchangeably with beacon. iBeacon is a term used in reference to prototcols, devices and uses of Bluetooth LE that help to shape user experiences. Apple has not been particularly open about what this term means but it seems to mean the software available inside a user's app and the specifications required of each beacon by Apple. These conditions have not been released yet.
  • Devices: A device can be a beacon as well as function for different things too. A smartphone, for example, can act as a beacon but obviously has many other functions. A beacon in a shop can transmit Bluetooth LE but also temperature and include a module for Wi-Fi.

Beacon Data

A beacon will send the following data: ADV-PBU (UUID), Flags, TX Power Level, Local Name and Services. Most beacons have a static UUID and they are also public. In some cases a beacon may need a pairing in which case it can change numbers randomly. When a beacon needs a pairing it is hard to fix into a database because there is no unique identifier to build up a profile for. Most beacons, however, are static.

Range and Accuracy

The important thing to learn here is that a beacon is not a GPS. A beacon measures proximity not location. The closer you are to a beacon the more accurate the proximity is measured.


There are many different devices on the market that incorporate beacon technology but Estimote is arguably one of the most well known. Estimote has distributed over 10,000 developer kits since 2013 and has quite a team behind the brand. Estimote beacons also come in two formats: Beacons and Stickers. You can attach the Estimote Beacon or Sticker to any location or object and apps on your smartphone are able to assess their proximity to nearby locations, picking up on statistics such as type, ownership and temperature.

The magical new world of mobile appsLet's stop and think for a second about the possibilities that beacons can offer developers and marketers.

Connecting the smartphone to the real world:

Notifications: Developers, designers and marketers can now integrate beacons into mobile app design to market directly at users as they make their way around the world.

A typical scenario looks like this: Once a signal is received from a beacon that the user has just arrived at the gym, Spotify could send them a notification of their suggested gym playlist for that day. The Nike app could send motivational notifications periodically throughout the next hour and a half with incentives to get 20% off the users next purchase. At the end of the users work out, the gym app could offer the user a refreshing beverage at the gym caf�� the possibilities go on and on.

Sensing another paradigm shift in the way brands communicate with their users? Yes us too. What are your predictions?

Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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