HOW TO CHOOSE BEACON HARDWARE
It can be difficult to know which beacon manufacturer is best for you. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is deciding based solely on pricing. Sending your manufacturer some or all of these beacon questions takes a few minutes, but could save you much more time and money in the long run.
Beacons can only send a limited amount of information (a maximum of 257 bytes). This is not enough to send media content such as a picture. Instead, they send an identifier that triggers content on mobile devices. It is, however, possible to send more information than an ID.
Key question: Ask what info is included in their beacon packets. Maybe you want to measure temperature or see battery life when you walk by.
Beacons do not broadcast signals continuously. Instead, they blink. Advertising interval is the rate that a beacon blinks/emits a signal. While Apple specifies 100ms (10 times per second) for their iBeacon protocol, some retailers prefer faster rates for a better user experience. However, when unlocked, iPhones scan about every second. A rate of 100ms is usually enough. Setting beacons at a slower rate means a longer battery life.
Key question: What the range of advertising intervals available to you when you configure the beacons?
Beacon range is not as precise as some manufacturer’s claim, but it is very closely related to transmit power. You want to know the range of transmit power (tx power) available. Many manufacturers have the same range but only allow you a few settings (such as near, intermediate and far) – know what those settings are. Keep in mind, the higher the tx setting, the more the battery is consumed.
Key question: What is the transmit power available to you when you configure the beacons?
Beacons emit 2.4 GHz radio waves with an antenna. A well-designed antenna can improve signal strength and reliability plus extend battery life.
Antenna design may be more detailed than you are interested in, but there are actually books available on antenna theory.
Key question: Asking your beacon manufacturer why their antenna could help you determine the level of precision in their design process as a whole.
This is where many beacons differ. In fact, some beacon manufacturers themselves offer different beacons with different prices based almost solely on battery length.
Some beacons plug directly into the wall, others use USB, but most have batteries. These batteries can last a few weeks (for a much lower price), and some can even last almost a decade. Several of the newer beacons even have power saving models (e.g. you can have them sending signals only during the day).
Keep in mind that the technology is changing quickly. For example, in 5 years you may want to upgrade your beacons anyway.
Key question: How is power supplied? If it is a battery, how long will it last? Make sure you clarify what rate and power will a beacon battery will last (i.e. if the beacon lasts five years at 2000ms and -30dBM that is very different than five years at 100ms and four dBM).
You want to know if you can deploy them indoors or outdoors. For outdoors, make sure it is certified waterproof, can withstand your highest and lowest temperatures and is particularly sturdy. Think about how easy it is to replace the batteries. Good quality material means better signal performance too.
Visual appeal matters as well. Seeing a brightly colored beacon could be a reminder to turn on Bluetooth. Alternatively, if you are using them just to collect data, it may be better for them to be more inconspicuous.
Key question: Ask if they are built for outdoor/indoor and how their casing enhances beacon performance.
Each beacon provides its own way of configuring the beacon and the transmit power (tx power) and the advertising interval (more on these above). Batteries can also be conserved depending on how well the firmware is written. You want the beacons to be easily set up and maintained.
Key question: Ask about their last firmware update and if there is a mechanism for updating firmware after installations.
Some manufacturer’s offer their own beacon protocols (this generally offers added security), but most offer Apple’s iBeacon and/or Google’s Eddystone. Preferably, you want a manufacturer that offers both, but you should check out this article on iBeacon versus Eddystone to learn more.
Key question: Ask what protocol(s) their beacons support.
Make sure you own the beacons. Check if they can combat against spoofing (creating a beacon clome – with the same ID). Some provide rolling identifiers which help against spoofing. There are some measures you can take on the app side to help make it secure and private as well, such as only looking for beacons in a certain geographical area. Google also just launched a more secure and private beacon frame, EID.
Key question: How do you maintain beacon privacy and security?
You want there to be clear docs on how to set the beacons up and maintain them. You also may just want someone in your home country speaking your native language. Think about delivery time too. Some take a few days, others weeks.
Key question: How will you be supported in setting up and maintaining the beacons?
You are now ready to ask the most important questions. Most well-known manufacturers will work just fine. Many even offer starter packs of three for you to test before you purchase beacons in bulk. You may not be able to test everything (e.g. you don’t want to wait for years to test the battery length), but testing is crucial.
If you can’t test (and even if you can), it is a good idea to ask for some case studies or a recommendation from someone who used them before.
When you are first starting out with new technology, it can be quite discouraging if your beacon isn’t working. We have prepared some beacon troubleshooting tips.
Also, if you are looking for support how to use a beacon platform, check out the noteacons support infographic.
SO HOW CAN YOU FIND THE RIGHT BEACON MANUFACTURER?
The most comprehensive source of beacon manufacturers out there is Proxbook. It’s an excellent resource – you can search if they offer software as well, what verticals they work with, what beacon standards companies use, if they offer other proximity tech, etc.
If you need any additional advice, we’re more than happy to help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all there is to it. If you would like a more in-depth tutorial on choosing beacon hardware, we offer free consultations. Sign up at noteacons.com/free-consultation.