iBeacon Applications

by Yuliy Khorolinskyy
10 minute read

Application 1: Positioning

Considering the fact that beacons are relatively simple and inexpensive devices, it is easily possible to distribute many of them in one location. It is also possible to provide them in outdoor, weatherproof locations with the use of enclosures, this allows for a more precise positioning via trilateration on the user’s device as opposed to GPS and other conventional methods - which also include vertical coordinates.

The beacons need to be placed at predetermined points, which are marked on a digital map. Depending on the beacon manufacturer and on the number of devices used, additional positioning technologies may increase the accuracy and precision. This is essential, because under real operating conditions, the transmission power of each beacon is slightly different, and signals are affected by local conditions such as walls or metal. In addition, the transmitter sometimes have to be mounted at places with small deviations from the position on the map.

According to certain hardware providers, an app can determine the real-time location with a precision of up to two meters by using the calibration data. 

Applications using positioning

Indoor navigation

Indoor navigation is the most common use for this technology. Whether the purpose is customer-service related at a shopping centre, airport or sports stadiums, the reachable accuracy provides enough of information to route someone through multi-storey buildings and extensive areas, both indoors and outdoors.

tracking the customer’s path allows companies to better manage the placement of their products and better guide them around the shop


Another useful feature of the beacon technology is that it allows the tracking of a customer’s position, allowing businesses for example to find out how and where customers have shopped the most, and acquire important data on their shopping behaviour. Considering that the data can be very specific depending on the client, it is possible to gain a large-scale statistical analysis of different target groups, and companies could also send individual personalized advertising messages. 

Moreover, tracking the customer’s path allows companies to better manage the placement of their products and better guide them around the shop. In the case of larger facilities, it is possible to examine congested hubs or peak periods accurately, hence allowing owners to better develop their next strategies. 

Application #2: Geofencing

Aside from my own physical position I could also be interested in the fact that I just entered some area of interest. Therefore apps can virtually fence certain geographic areas to provide this information, relying on GPS signals. Using beacon technology such fencing can now as well occur indoors.

In principle, however it is not the region that is of interest, but what exactly is located there. You can attach the beacon directly to the object of interest, and thus align the area automatically thereafter. This is particularly useful if the object can move. With the three zones FAR, NEAR and IMMEDIATE the standard itself defines three nuances of interaction between user and object. Since at FAR there is most likely no visual contact, finding should be facilitated in this zone. At NEAR, the user is at a distance, at which only a few objects will be competing for his attention. IMMEDIATE means the user is in almost direct contact with the Beacon.

Another option are location-independent Beacon regions. Here the same beacon identifier may e.g. represent the same department in all branches of a business. An associated app would recognize this in any branch of the department regardless of their actual location. At the opening of a new branch office employees only need to install the beacons correctly and have the app work well without an update.

Usages of geofencing

context based push messages

One of the biggest advantages of geofencing is that it allows shop owners to send push-notifications to clients that already have their application, and inform them about special offers or events. Customized promotions have the power to attract the customer to the shop, and the geofencing feature can inform the client about the products around them, as well as the availability in different sizes for example.

An app that already has been installed on the potential customer’s smartphone has the ability to notify about special offers or events and attract attention. Now the real environment of the customer can trigger a message. If the customer is strolling past the shop entrance, they can be presented personalized promotions (FAR). After they go inside, the app presents special promotions, new items or bargain deals (NEAR). If they want to learn more about a product’s availiability in a specific size, they just touch the product with the phone and get a detailed product page on the screen (IMMEDIATE).

Geofencing can also be used for orientation at museums for instance, where users could request to play-back the information of a specific exhibit and receive it directly on their phone. 


Anyone interested in home automation will be very happy with this new technology. Users can now place beacons around the house, and when leaving the premises for example, the phone can recognize the change of location and the distance from home, and immediately switch all the lights off. When entering a different room, lights could automatically switch on due to the recognition of the close proximity.

When leaving the premises for example, the phone can recognize the change of location and the distance from home, and immediately switch all the lights off.

When entering the next room, the lights switch on automatically. If you move away from your house it can lock the doors and upon return you will be greeted by a door that automatically opens.

Mobile robots and machines can also greatly benefit from the fact, that they don’t have to make a complex analysis of their surroundings to get a simple information. This way two quadrocopters for example can prevent a collision since they would recognize each other and their distance from a beacon signal.

Application #3: Beacons as entry point for other services

As mentioned, a Beacon could also be used as a springboard for more in-depth interaction. In this case, the beacon will signal its ID to the corresponding App and will inform the user that a particular service is offered in that area. Further communication can also be achieved via WLAN to the Beacon, even if the device is placed in a hidden area. 

The applications that can be created this way are only limited by imagination. The use of the iBeacon standard simplifies implementation because already standardized hardware and proven software exist to handle it – why reinvent the wheel?


In September 2013, PayPal announced the launch of the PayPal beacon which could be installed in shops. This device is not exactly like the iBeacon, but also uses Bluetooth LE similarly to Apple’s product. It's kind of an iBeacon which does not comply with the specification. The tester also dominates Fi and is connected to the payment system of the seller. When the customer’s phone, which has the PayPal app already installed, detects the presence of such beacon, the customer then will receive a notification allowing him to pay directly without cash. The payment is then made through a generated code which the customer gives the vendor or scans at checkout. If the customer does not want to use this feature, the app will simply not respond to the unencrypted signal of the beacon. No data is thus transmitted from the smartphone and the user's privacy is safe. 

Although the launch was announced for early 2014, no updates have been reported as to the status of the feature. PayPal has probably decided against the concept as a concrete implementation of cashless payments initiated by beacons. The new digital payment methods available, Google Wallet and Apple Pay, are both using NFC technology. However, it is still unclear how the future of mobile payments will turn out, and what role the beacons may play in it. 


Despite the countless benefits, the use of iBeacons must be carefully considered, as it brings some challenges onto the market. Below are a few that we would like to mention. 

Precision and interference

As a Bluetooth LE device, an iBeacon is simply a transmitter of electromagnetic waves. Both the classic Bluetooth and the Bluetooth LE send up to 2.4 GHz frequency band, this means that other devices that operate at frequencies may be disrupted or interfere with the transmission, whether it’s wifi hotspots, cordless phones or even microwaves. Although BLE is designed for ruggedness particularly in parallel with wifi, nevertheless a beacon that is placed directly over a wireless antenna will not be seen particularly well. Obstacles such as a wall, a metal frame or even a human body may weaken the signal, and since the signal strength is used for determining the distance, the accuracy may only be ensured in the immediate region.     

If you turn your back to a Beacon, the measured distance of IMMEDIATE can switch to FAR in extreme cases. Attaching the small transmitters on metal surfaces, reflections can occur, which also complicate the strength of the signal.

The need for trained staff

One way to improve accuracy is to install more iBeacons in the venue. But the main question remains: how is it possible to figure out which is the best place to install them? When it comes to precision (navigation purposes, for example), the location must be considered very carefully. This is why the team that is making such decisions is required to have a certain knowledge about the hardware, hence the importance of conducting a training about the installation and maintenance of the beacon network. 

Technical support and content management

It is important to make a list of IDs and their meanings available to the application in order to interpret the beacon signals correctly. This means that each beacon installed should be catalogued. However, when you are only using 10 beacons for example, it is quite simple to do so manually. What happens when installing 100 or 1,000 beacons in one area? 

In the case where an application requires navigation, it gets a little more complicated, as each beacon must be assigned. Even more difficult is the situation for navigation applications. Here each beacon must also be assigned a position in 2d or 3d space and and  even slight deviations of the assigned position from the actual one reduce the accuracy of the application dramatically.

After installation, the system needs to be constantly maintained to keep track of the battery life, or in case the beacon needs to be replaced. Here a problem could arise: how to identify a broken iBeacon? The hardware itself cannot transmit any message or signal to notify that it is no longer working. In that case, it is important to regularly check the status of each beacon, and it is essential to ensure technical support from the providers. 


The Bluetooth LE connected iBeacons are basically publicly accessible, meaning they are also insecure.  The messages that the device transmits can be read by anyone and can be replicated for malicious purposes. In most cases, this should not be a problem because all security-related information is normally included in the package when purchasing the device. Nevertheless, it is still unclear whether a mis-signal from a beacon poses a threat related to criminal interest or pure vandalism when sending out false positioning of the signal. This is why before considering a long-term use of the beacon, it is viable to check the robustness of every system using such devices. 

If an application requires a high demand of security, the iBeacons may only be used as a first communication step. The actual transfer must take place over other secured channels, such as the case of the PayPal Beacon mentioned above. 

Getting your way onto the user's device

As already mentioned, the actual potential of iBeacons can only be deployed by the app installed on the end-user’s device and needs to be handled with care. No client will install an application unless it brings a returned benefit to his or her own needs. More importantly, an application that constantly spams the user with advertising will only create a bad user experience and will end up removed from the device. If users often face unpleasant experiences associated with iBeacons, public acceptance for the entire technology could diminish, this is why every entity that plans on using this new technology will be, to a certain extent, responsible for the future of this market. From the user’s side, it is important for them to be willing to turn on the Bluetooth radio in order to receive signals, even though it may consume more energy from their device. Without the Bluetooth signal, it will be impossible to identify the beacons, hence the handling of the collected data is always a sensitive issue. 

The best way to convince users to do so is to educate them about the benefits of this technology and what added value it brings to their lifestyle. 

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