IoT M2M blog

The home of free hints and tips about wireless IoT / M2M

iBeacon versus Bluetooth Low Energy Beacon

For some reasons Apple was brainwashing the whole world. The whole world means that the iBeacon is the only beacon. iBeacons are stupid. iBeacon only really transmit their ID around the clock. Apple has not invented Bluetooth Low Energy. Apple even did not invent the Bluetooth Low Energy beacon. They just registered the trademark iBeacon and made a specification how the ID has to look like. Any BLE device (BT Smart Ready or BLE observer) can read any BLE message because they use the BLE advertising. BLE adversing is a broadcasted non secure, non encrypted transmitting of data like broadcast radio or broadcast TV. As soon as you own a receiver you can listen in. The receiver for such a BLE message is e.g. an iPhone, Android phone with version 4.2 or higher plus BT 4.0 or even a Windows 8.0 laptop.

iBeacon – the closed beacon

iBeacons are stupid BLE beacon that transmits their unique ID, mayor ID, minor ID and power level. Based on this information you can make an estimation who went when to a shop, stopped at which shelf or is sitting at which table in a restaurant. The beacon migrates to a clever tool as soon as an app on the smart-phones will forward data from customers in a shop or restaurant to a server by Wi-Fi or cellular operator (2G, 3G, 4G). It also can be used to push messages on your screen of the smart-phone. The iBeacon will not send the push message. The advertising message will be loaded by Wi-Fi or cellular radio in your smart phone. In front of the fridge in supermarket you will get a special offer for fresh fish, and if fish is out, then they will offer you something else. They will know that you dislike fish most time and will maybe not offer fish to you any more. If they analyse your trolley then they will understand after a while that you never buy fish. If you never buy fish and meet but cheese and eggs then you are a maybe a vegetarian and if they detect that you never buy eggs and always stay longer in the shelf with vegan products, then will stop to offer you the eggs. There is a lot of more information where the market research companies are interested in. They do not need the data from all off us. If a few percent of smart-phone users will install the app, then they can start with optimisation to sell us more.
The Tekmodul beacon you can get with several firmware versions. One firmware version is supporting several beacon modes. One out of the beacon modes is the straight, stupid iBeacon format. All this beacon formats are on Bluetooth 4.0. BLE is a sub set of BT 4.0. And BLE advertiser and BLE observer is a sub set of BLE. An iBeacon is nothing else than a BLE beacon on BLE adversing and customised message format defined by Apple.

Tekmodul beacon – the open BLE beacon

BLE beacon will wall mounted bracket

BLE beacon will wall mounted bracket

If a BLE beacon is following straight the specification of the iBeacon format then there is no support of temperature or accelerometer. It will send the ID around the clock. Nevertheless, the Tekmodul beacon is a clever beacon. If you order it with standard programming cable, then you can change modes and functions without touching the firmware. There are also some special customised firmware versions developed by Tekmodul / Compotek. The Tekmodul beacon is an open beacon. You can get the schematic diagrams and redesign it. You can get the IC and make a complete new BLE beacon.

BLE key fob

BLE key fob

You also can get the semiconductor die and put it without IC enclosure direct on the PCB and bond it direct. This makes only sense if you dislike e.g. the size or format of the enclosure of the Tekomodul beacon. There is one round shaped plastic enclosure with already three mounting brackets. One is for mounting at wall or asset (e.g. laptop). There is also a bracket to build a key-fob. The third version offers the mounting at your arm or leg with wristband. You also can get the Tekmodul beacon without enclosure and design your own one plastic enclosure. Or you just design your own bracket. Nevertheless nobody will stop you to nick or mill an enclosure out of a piece of wood.

The PRO version of the BLE evaluation kit includes a C complier for developing an own code on the Tekmodul beacon.

The Tekmodul beacon comes with a button. The button can be set by programming cable to:

  • On / Off of the beacon and transmitting in iBeacon or Tekmodul beacon format
  • Button off – as soon you connect the coin cell battery to the beacon as soon it will start to transmit in iBeacon or Tekmodul beacon format
  • Button set for push to talk. The button will send one message and go to sleep
BLE beacon at wristband

BLE beacon at wristband

The Tekmodul beacon comes with a temperature sensor and some LEDs. The enhanced version holds an accelerometer as well. On its open hardware the programming interface is open as well.

If you are interested in a BLE beacon evaluation kit please do not hesitate to drop an email to harald.naumann (at) gsm-modem.de

8 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. Hi
    I’m interested in the SDK and I’m interested in know if it is possible to attach an external antenna to the beacon… for example using an U.FL connector.
    Please contact me.
    Thanks

  2. The beacon comes with schematic diagram. You can replace the antenna, but then you lose the radio certification.

  3. Hi,

    How can I obtain a kit?
    Is apple extending it’s specification to include an accelerometer and thermometer as this seems to becoming more “standard” or are the other companies adding this functionality.
    cheers
    Jim

  4. Hi Jim,
    I can`t talk for Apple or other companies. Right now, Apple has not an own beacon and specified a very simple protocol. I only can help with enhanced becaons including senors and including radio certification and give you the freedom to run the simple Apple protocol as well. I also give you the freedom to develop and install an own customised protocol. You will find an email in your inbox which shows you how to place a sample order.
    Harald

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  6. Using a custom firmware and API, is the device able to connect to another central BLE device, beyond just advertising? Is the device able to measure RSSI using the custom API?
    Thanks

  7. Love the article Harald. As the guys who probably did “invent” the BLE beacon (for whatever level of invention that required) to locate staff in shopping centers back in 2011 I am constantly amazed at all this talk about Apple’s “invention”. We (Daelibs) got a mention an Wikipedia for a while for having created all the predicate technology but, in the end, Apple fought to have that removed. I guess it is like many of the Apple/Microsoft “inventions” where they simply popularised something that had existed for years. Anyhoo we sometime claim to have invented IoT (with tongue firmly planed in cheek) since we using devices that would now classify as IoT, way back in 2001

  8. Paul, if you ever have a need for an inexpensive BLE module with ultra low power or an antenna design, then do not hesitate to drop me an email to harald.naumann (at) lte-modem.com. A BLE beacon is nothing else than an active RFID tag on 2400 MHz. I can show you such tags on ANT or on a proprietary protocol that are even produced before 2011. In the year 2000, my team used beacons on 869 MHz to detect room level of elderlies. In case of the Apple beacon, the success is based on plain marking and the freedom of Apple to integrate the logical layer in their operating system. If you want to be back on Wikipedia then just generate a new section for active RFID on 2400 MHz. I can help with a least two entries.

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