A beacon is a small, electronic device based on Bluetooth Low Energy® (Bluetooth 4.0) which broadcasts radio signals called advertising packets.
These signals can be received by any device which is in range and equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 e.g. smartphones such as Apple iPhoneTM 4S (or higher), iPad (3rd gen or higher), iPad Mini or SamsungTM Galaxy S5. Devices do no need to ‘pair’ with beacons to be able to receive advertising packets.
When a mobile device receives an advertising packet, the distance and relative location from the Beacon can be calculated without the need for other systems such as GPS. This ability creates many opportunities to use Beacons, for example, content can be loaded from the internet to smartphone when it gets close to a given beacon.
You can think of beacons like a lighthouse. Just as a lighthouse emits a beam of light to tell ships that land is nearby, a beacon emits a advertising packets that the app identifies and translates into an action.
Many beacon’s are equipped with a coin battery (eg: CR2477 battery) which, thanks to the beacon’s low power consumption, can run for up to 24 months on default settings.
There are also USB powered beacons beacons and others that you can simply connect to the power grid (USB powered beacons can be converted in grid powered beacons by plugin the beacon to a small USB adapter like your phones charger).
The maximum range of the broadcast signal depends on the transmission power setting, as well as the environment devices are in as the signal can be diffracted or absorbed.
By default, transmission power is set to -12 dBm, and the default advertising interval is 350ms. These two values and other parameters, can be set by the user by connecting to a beacon.
The maximum range of beacons depends on it’s manufacturer it’s common to find beacons with a range from 25m (82 feet) up to 100m (328 feet).
And usually the range of the beacon can be adjusted by adjusting it’s transmission power but the more power used the small the beacons battery lifetime will be.
The beacons real range depends a lot of external factors , it’s location, obstacles near it (people count as obstacles), materials surrounding the beacon, etc..
Beacon Parameters: UUID, Major and Minor
The UUID, Major and Minor parameters are your iBeacon’s identifier and make up the key component of the Advertising packets that are continually transmitted by your Beacons.
These values (UUID, Major and Minor) are preset before your iBeacons are shipped. Usually the UUID for all your iBeacons will have the same value, and the Major and Minor values will vary for each iBeacon per manufacture. So if you buy beacons from Estimote ou Sensoro the UUID for all of it’s beacons will be the same (per manufacture) and the Major and Minor will change per beacon.
What is UUID?
UUID stands for Universally Unique Identifier. It contains 32 hexadecimal digits, split into 5 groups, separated by dashes and looks something like:
The UUID is standard identifying system which allows a ‘unique’ number to be generated for a device (or in the case of Beacons, manufacturer, application or owner).
The purpose of the ID is to distinguish iBeacons in your network, from all other beacons in networks outside your control. By default you will be assigned only one UUID when ordering iBeacons, which is linked to your account.
Technically an organization can use multiple UUIDs if needed, for example to identify venues in different locations or to identify different business units.
What are Major and Minor values?
Major and Minor values are numbers assigned to your iBeacons, in order to identify them with greater accuracy than using UUID alone.
Minor and Major are unsigned integer values between 1 and 65535.
The iBeacon standard requires both a Major and Minor value to be assigned.
How to use UUID, Major and Minor values?
Major values are intended to identify and distinguish a group – for example all beacons in on a certain floor or room in your venue could be assigned a unique major value.
Minor values are intended to identify and distinguish an individual – for example distinguishing individual beacons within a group of beacons assigned a major value.
Say you are a Museum who has bought 1000 iBeacons. All 1000 beacons use the same UUID which tells end-users that these beacons are owned by the Museum.
This museum has 5 exhibitions running, so the museum assigns a Major value of 1 through 5 to identify beacons assigned to a particular exhibit. So there are now 5 groups of beacons with an assigned major value of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
Now let’s say there are 200 paintings and sculptures within each exhibition. All the exhibits are assigned an iBeacon to deliver unique information about each piece, so you use the Minor value to distinguish between each iBeacon.
So there are now 5 groups with 200 iBeacons each, and each beacon is assigned a minor value of 1 through 200.
You can now precisely identify every iBeacon in the museum by their assigned exhibition, and down to each individual painting and sculpture. This is also how you can direct guests towards a precise location, by asking them to search for the specific beacon ID numbers.
Do I have to use Major and Minor values?
Technically you do not have to assign these values at all (although they are all required as part of the Apple’s iBeacon standard) – however they are very useful for identifying, organizing, and tracking iBeacons down to a finer level. If you want your iBeacons to deliver unique content, then they need to have a unique ID to distinguish them.
There may however be applications, where using only the UUID is a useful feature;
You can also assign a Major OR a Minor value if this better suits your purpose. Smaller beacon systems for example may not need to use multiple groups, or you could group beacons by a particular function where individualization is unnecessary.
Can I change the UUID, Major, and Minor values?
Yes. You can change the UUID, Major, and Minor values in your beacons using the manufacturers app.