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Detection of beacon devices in a location-based mobile application

Location-based marketing can work outdoors by detecting signals from global satellite navigation systems or even on a Beacon basis (there is an IP67 Beacon device that is dust and waterproof and can do the same as its indoor counterparts).

The radio signals broadcast by global satellite navigation systems, on the other hand, cannot be reached indoors at all (GPS Navstar, Galileo, GLONASS). Since there is no „line-of-sight” of these satellites indoors (just think of car navigation being lost in a tunnel), mobile phones are not able to receive the satellite’s signal, so the location-based marketing service has to be solved in a different way.

Indoors placing Beacon devices is the solution

In order to implement Beacon location-based marketing functions to users, whether outdoors or indoors, it is necessary to understand how the matchbox-sized and ultra-low-power devices make this possible.

Of course, understanding will not result in a mobile application, but if there is already a ready-made service, then it is worth giving priority to the features of the operating environment, the application’s tool set and parameterization, as well as the holy trinity of user satisfaction. This includes the operation of Beacon devices as the foundation of indoor location-based marketing.

Location-based marketing

It must be stated that providing location-based marketing services requires a mobile app that the user must install in order to be able to receive location-based digital content. Ultimately, that’s the goal. Satisfying user needs by providing information to them when and where their usefulness and experience can be maximized, i.e. at the user’s location.

These Beacon devices and the Beacon signal-sensing application running on the phone itself can typically be found in connection with the products and services available indoors. With their help, the product or service „addresses” the customer, visitor, or user indoors.

Either a broadcast message or digital content based on satellite coordinates can alert the user to activate Beacon signal monitoring.

That is why it is not necessary to conditionally leave the Beacon monitoring function permanently activated in an application capable of handling a Beacon signal. Purely from the point of view of saving the battery, it is worthwhile to include an „on” and „off” switch in such applications.

In a very sophisticated solution, the system may even be able to automatically turn off the service if the phone does not detect any Beacon signals for a given period of time.

If the Beacon detection function switch is turned on, the system „sees” Beacon devices from there and can detect their signal.

But that’s not the ‘scope’, am I right?

Yes, well. Beacon device „seen” is not the same as „scope” at all.
The fact that a Beacon device emits the signal that „I’m here, I’m available” does not mean that the app installed on the phone receives any digital content after detecting the signal. So, when coming into range, a controlled event is clearly triggered, while the „sight” is merely a call to dance, but does not trigger a meaningful event.

The importance of distance estimation

The phone continuously estimates its distance from the Beacon device measured for its own position. Without it, there is no „accessibility, vision” or „scope” detection in the app.

For this, two defining values can be set in the Beacon device, one is „Transmit power” and the other is „Advertising interval”.

There are Beacon manufacturers who make it possible to determine the Transmit power value based on the proximity detection distance (quite sensitively, even at a distance of cm). In this case, in addition to the adjustable value of Transmit Power, there is also the detection distance. The smaller the value, the closer the mobile phone must be to the Beacon device. For other manufacturers’ products, only „Low”, „Medium” and „High” values can be configured and that’s it. We will talk about this later.

Advertising Interval. What is that?

The „Advertising Interval” setting determines how often the beacon will transmit the advertiser’s packet (ie basically telling nearby terminals that „I’m here!”).

This is usually measured in milliseconds (ms), but in the highest interval ranges (1000 ms) it can be measured in seconds. In practice, however, we only deal with differences between milliseconds. Changing the frequency of the transmitter (the Advertising interval) improves or worsens the quality of the detection in such a way as to how many chances the phone gives to measure in one second. The more options there are, the better it is to eliminate periodic disturbances in the environment. At the same time, it is safe to say that Beacon devices are „noise” to each other, so they must be set up wisely.

Which Beacon values should you count on?

Based on our own experience, we see that a higher Advertising Interval setting (more than 700 ms) can actually cause problems with signal stability.
At the same time, we also found that the fastest 100 ms interval setting for the Beacon (the Beacon transmits the signal 10 times within 1 second) unnecessarily overstretches the system, costs more energy than the increase in signal strength and system stability.

It drains the Beacon’s batteries too quickly. We’ve determined that an advertisement interval of around 300ms provides the perfect balance between Beacon signal stability and battery life, so we use this setting as the default in most cases.

Signal strength versus battery life

The maximum range of the transmitted signal depends on the transmission power setting and environmental factors.

Signals can suffer interference, fragmentation or absorption. The higher the transmission power, the more the battery drains.

It should be taken into account that the range is an approximate value and depends not only on the strength of the radiation, but also on other factors, such as the operating environment, the placement of the Beacon and the sensitivity of the end device (mobile phones, tablets).

Changing the Transmit power and Advertising interval improves or worsens the distance estimate. As we have already written, with larger values, the Beacon element sinks more, and other devices in the vicinity may be more disturbed by the stronger signal.

By increasing the strength of the Beacon Transmit power, the distance can be better estimated, it can be calculated more precisely how many meters the mobile phone is from the Beacon.

Ambient noises versus Transmit power

From how strong („how loud”) the Beacon gave the signal (it also sends in the packet how strongly it sent the packet, what is its setting) and how strongly we received it („we heard” the packet itself), it is possible to estimate how far we are from it, because the strength of the received signal decreases with the distance.

Since we do not live in an idyllic world, there are environmental disturbances (mainly the constant „white noise” that matters here), which is a kind of background radiation. From this, the signal must stand out in order to be able to properly interpret what is in the signal, and it must be noted that the phone’s antenna is also what it is, so the strength of the transmission must reach a certain level in order for the distance estimate to be correct.

This can be changed (strengthened) by setting the Transmit power to a higher value.
The „disturbance” can even be tested if we put our hand or some shielding object between the Beacon and the telephone (transmitter). The app already receives different distance values.

Distance estimation accuracy

A „long range” Transmit Power manufacturer setting (High), about 100 meters, means that the mobile device can still „see and hear” the Beacon signal from such a distance, but no event control takes place (the phone is not in range), so the app does not receive digital content either. At such a distance, the estimate is guaranteed to stutter.

However, in practice, the estimated value of the distance between the Beacon (transmitter) and the telephone (receiver) and its accuracy do matter from the point of view of event control.

Based on the estimated distance from the signal, we know whether the phone is within the range, if it is within the range, then the digital content will arrive in the app, then an event will occur.

The Transmit power and the Advertising interval must be set to such values that the estimated distance is acceptable, since it is necessary to measure the distance as precisely as possible in order for the app (on the phone) to come within the Beacon range.

Where should the Beacon scope be set then?

Good question. Again, to reiterate, the Beacon range is the distance within which some controlled event occurs in the application running on the phone.
Range is not the same as the phone „seeing, hearing” the Beacon.

The range is definitely a priority in this respect, since the goal is not for the phone to calculate the distance between the Beacon and itself (although this is absolutely necessary for the operation of the range), but for some evaluable event to occur in the app running on the phone in when it is at a certain distance from the Beacon. Let’s say the user receives a location-based discount coupon or information or advertisement, or a questionnaire, poll, appointment booking, etc.

The scope must be programmed in the app.

This is the answer. Skillfully, smartly, adapted to the needs of the given project.

The relationship between distance estimation and range

Obviously, the Transmit power and the Advertising interval value predefined in the Beacon (on the basis of which the phone-Beacon distance can be estimated) are important, but they are a necessary but not sufficient element of the process.

If we really want to simplify it, it doesn’t matter at what distance we can „see and hear” the Beacon device, because it is completely irrelevant from the user’s point of view. The user needs content, needs an event. He doesn’t care about anything else. This is what we have to serve.
The „Low, Medium and High” values (in other words, Transmit power) and the Advertising interval also have an effect on the quality and accuracy of the distance estimation.

At the same time, of course, this also affects the range itself, since even if a range of 1 or 2 meters is set (deprogrammed) in the application, if the phone continuously measures the distance between itself and the Beacon incorrectly, the range itself is also wrong.

Location-based marketing? +36 30 982 13 68

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