Purchasing Beacons? Why Beacon Power Source matters
October 28, 2014
With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, retailers are under immense pressure to adapt the brick and mortar experience to today’s mobile-savvy shopper. As a result many large retail chains have billed beacons as the next big thing in retail technology. This comes as no surprise, given how beacons not only make it easier and quicker for consumers to access information on products that they are looking for but also help retailers track invaluable data about how their consumers behave in-store.
Before businesses rush to get their hands on their own set of beacons, there are a number of factors to consider. Among them, deciding on opting for a battery powered beacon or a USB powered beacon, is one of most crucial ones.
Factors that affect Beacon Battery Life
In general, the battery life of beacons is primarily dependent on three main factors. They are:
Battery Type – Most conventional beacons use a coin-sized, or AA/AAA batteries which are generally non-rechargeable and need to be replaced.
Advertising Intervals – This term defines how frequently signals are broadcast by beacons. Greater the broadcasting frequency, higher the data that can be collected, and more accurate are the distance estimations. Therefore if your want to offer indoor navigation and positioning, then you will have to raise the advertising interval to ensure higher accuracy.
Broadcasting Signal Power – Higher the signal power, greater is the range at which mobile devices will be able to pick up the signal and convert it into information.
Depending on the use case in hand, you can change the broadcasting power. For example, if you want to trigger contextual notifications only when a consumer is very close a particular beacon, then you can reduce the beacon’s broadcast range by lowering the broadcasting power. On the other hand, if you want your beacons to broadcast over a large space such as a parking lot, then you will have to raise the broadcasting power in order to ensure that mobile devices can pick up the signal from far itself.
Besides this, mobile devices use the received signal strength (RSSI) to calculate the distance to the broadcasting beacon and estimate its location. Thus, when it comes to applications that offer indoor navigation and positioning, more broadcast power will be used up. Unfortunately, the greater the broadcast power, the faster the beacon’s battery will drain.
Apple’s iBeacon Specification Posing Challenges for Beacon Manufacturers
When Apple first announced iBeacon at the 2013 WWDC, it was widely publicised that beacon devices could run on a single coin-cell battery for as long as 1 to 2 years. However, according to a recent iBeacon Specification published by Apple in late February, beacon manufacturers can now request Apple to attach the iBeacon name to their devices as long as they adhere to a list of very specific technical criteria. This was done to ensure that the quality of the beacon and the satisfaction of both the company purchasing the beacon and the end consumer who interacts with it, meet Apple’s standards.
Among the criteria highlighted in the iBeacon specification document, the most crucial one is that Apple requires beacon manufacturers to adhere to a relatively high advertising frequency compared to the ones that the earlier battery life estimates were based upon. As a consequence of this, early adopters of beacon hardware may run into some challenges. They are:
The inevitable replacement of batteries – In the long run this would pose as a maintenance headache. In fact, most battery powered beacons that are available in the market today, if configured to broadcast at the interval specified by Apple would have a dramatically short battery life.
Compliance to Apple’s iBeacon Specification – Early adopters may have purchased beacon hardware that are not compliant with Apple’s new specifications and may be required to replace them in the future. And while all beacon hardware currently available works with Apple’s CoreLocation APIs, only hardware that conforms to Apple’s specifications are guaranteed to work with future versions of iOS.
Best Way Ahead – Opt for a Beacon that you can Power Up
Thus the best way for brands to ensure that they comply to iBeacon specification while avoiding maintenance issues, is to opt for electromagnetic wave powered beacons or USB powered beacons. Contrary to popular belief, USB powered beacons needn’t always be connected to a computer, as the USB only acts as a source of power supply. You could even buy an adapter, plug it into your wall, and pop the beacon in there. And in the case of electromagnetic wave powered beacons, they work by extracting power from a single source of low-current ambient electromagnetic waves. Adding on to that, they are extremely portable and convenient to use because of their size.
If you are planning a beacon pilot, take a look at Beaconstac, that includes everything you need to get started. Using Beaconstac you can set up your own campaign, without a developer’s help!