Understanding the Different Kinds of Beacon Technologies

iBeacons, one of the most thoughtful and effective recent innovations in the world of technology, have taken over the area of consumer interaction and experience in almost every industry now. They have been quite helpful in keeping consumers engaged and thereby increasing sales. iBeacons were introduced by Apple in 2013, as part of their efforts to provide better location-based services to consumers. Being a proprietary closed spec technology, it is not available for development by others, although there are other beacons using the iBeacon format.

Here we discuss 2 such different beacon technologies, that came into being after iBeacons:

  1. AltBeacon – As the name suggests, it is a beacon that was developed as an alternative to iBeacons. It is an open source and free beacon design, developed by Radius Networks and has almost the same functionalities as iBeacon, except that it is not company specific. A noteworthy feature of AltBeacons is that they have 25 of 28 bytes available for user data, which enables more data to be delivered per message. It is also not limited to single-function devices and works with any device that is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) compliant. Considering that it is a very new technology, it is not being widely used yet. Although, in time, they are very likely to become popular because of the fact that they can carry more data and that they are open spec.
  2. Eddystone – This is an open beacon format by Google developed as part of their Physical Web project. They are very similar to iBeacons except that they have a URL in the payload. They deliver short links to the web through BLE advertising packets. It Doesn’t require an external database. This allows for benefits like promotional codes that can be made available at retail stores which can be used to go to a webpage having a discount coupon or things like that.
    URIBeacon – It is another Google beacon developed as a part of their Physical Web project. URIBeacons have slowly evolved to be a part of the new Eddystone format. It uses 28 bytes of the 31 bytes available in an advertising packet. Just like Eddystone, they also support URLs through their BLE advertisement packets.It has a configuration service, unlike AltBeacons and iBeacons. These have to be updated with new information and they keep changing with time. How they differ from their new improved version (Eddystone) is that Eddystone supports a variety of payload types now, while URIBeacons do not. Also, Eddystone offers a lot more support for Unique IDs through its Eddystone-UID framework, which was again not the case with URIBeacons. Moreover, Eddystone is now more open to future innovations.

In short

iBeacons and AltBeacons are almost the same except for the fact that iBeacons are closed spec and AltBeacons are not. They both use external databases and broadcast Universal Unique IDs. Being Apple-branded, iBeacons are more widely used than AltBeacons. On the other hand, URIBeacons do not use external databases, instead they use web links to link the data directly. In that sense, the workload on the app side for URIBeacons is comparatively more. And they are slowly becoming a part of the Eddystone format.

Although iBeacons are the most popular form of beacon technology used nowadays, the other types are also slowly catching up. Together, they are likely to transform the way data is being transmitted, whether it is in the retail industry, or the finance industry or any industry. In all, the beacon technology is definitely here to stay and is wide open for innovations in future.

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Ashmitha Chatterjee

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