The Basics of iBeacon

iBecon

What is an iBeacon?

iBeacon® is Apple's name for a small Bluetooth transmitter (beacon) which can be used to trigger Apps in the smartphones of people who pass nearby.

Although the name and technical specification are Apple's, the beacons can be made by anyone, and can work with most modern smartphones, whether Apple or Android.

The big deal about iBeacons is that because Apps react to the specific locations of beacons, marketers can target shoppers with offers or information that relates specifically to where they are or what they're doing (location based marketing). In return, marketers can learn about users' behaviour and habits. Unlike previous GPS type location-based systems, iBeacons work reliably indoors, and don't need a geolocation database: the "location" moves with the beacon.

An iBeacon is not very smart. It is just a device which broadcasts its identification continually. A phone which comes in range reads the identification, decides if it has any Apps which relate to that iBeacon, and if it does, wakes the App up and gives it the identification number. The App - which is designed and supplied by the beacon owner - then does whatever it's been designed to do. This might include displaying messages, making sounds, or telling a database it has seen the beacon. All of the intelligence is in the App, which makes it very easy for marketers to change the content which is delivered, and target it to specific customers or locations.

All Wellington SCS Connect™ refrigeration controllers have a built in iBeacon beacon.

What can I use it for?

iBeacons are used to let you deliver content to consumers that relates to their location. This doesn't need to be a geographic location, it might be "in the shoe aisle", "entering my store", or "close to a fridge selling product X". The content you deliver is entirely up to you.

Examples include:

  • Showing promotional offers or extra information on products the consumer is looking at
  • Personalised reminders triggered when they are near what the reminder's about
  • "Calling out" to customers as they pass by, encouraging them to stop or enter
  • Linking customer activity to loyalty or discount schemes.
  • Inviting them to complete surveys or engage on social media as they enter or leave your location

iBeacons can also be used for other purposes, including "waking up" digital coupons stored in phones' wallets, driving interactions with smart screens, tracking (consenting) consumers' movements, and to crowdsource asset location data

What else do I need?

The physical beacon is only one part of the iBeacon ecosystem. As well as an SCS Connect controller, you will also need:

  • A Beacon configuration system: for Wellington beacons this is integrated into the SCS Connect controller's diagnostics and installation app
  • A brand App (or Apps) that you can ask the consumer to load: this might be your own consumer app or provided by a partner
  • Digital marketing content to be delivered by the App: to persuade the consumer to use and value the App, this needs to be helpful, valuable, and ever-changing.
  • For larger deployments (beyond a few tens of beacons), a Campaign Management System. This relates the beacon to a location, decides what content should be given to the consumer based on the location, and collects data about the consumer to help you make the content decisions and improve your targeting. A Content Management System can consist of several separate systems (e.g. Beacon Manager, Campaign Manager, Coupon Manager, Content Manager, CRM, Analytics Platform), or it can be a single integrated system

Wellington can support you with an end-to-end beacon marketing system, or work with your digital marketing team to integrate beacon location information from our SCS Connect System™ Cloud based fleet management system into your own campaign management system. For more information, see our Proximity Marketing Solutions page, or contact us.

What's special about Wellington iBeacons?

Wellington's iBeacon beacons are built in to our SCS Connect refrigeration controllers. This has several benefits:

  • Standard "button" type beacons are powered by batteries. These only last for 6 months to 2 years, after which you need to change the battery or replace the beacon. Because the SCS controller is mains powered, it lasts the life of the cooler, and the iBeacon never runs out of battery.
  • Because battery life is not an issue, SCS Beacons can advertise at a high repetition rate (which improves the customer experience), and can simultaneously act as both iBeacons and beacons for other systems such as Eddystone.
  • Button type beacons are small and easily portable. This makes them easy to lose, easy to place wrongly, and easy to steal. SCS beacons are built in to the fridge: they are always where you need them to be, and never go missing.
  • To make the best use of an iBeacon, you need to know where it is. This lets you target your marketing activity to specific brands, stores, or geographies, and build the best picture of your consumers' behaviour. Wellington's SCS Connect controller identifies its location as part of the fridge installation process, and sends the location to the SCS Connect System database. So that's one less process you need to go through, and one less thing to go wrong.
  • Conventional iBeacons are not interactive: communication from the iBeacon to the phone is one way only. Because the SCS beacon is also a Bluetooth connection to the fridge control, we can create interactive behaviour between the fridge and the phone. For example the fridge lights could blink when the App beeps, telling the customer why they are being beeped at. Or the SCS Connect controller could send a message to the phone when the door is opened, telling you whether your message has really generated a sale. We can work with your App developer to enable the interactivity you need to "close the loop" on location based marketing.

What if I'm not ready yet?

Because SCS Beacons are built in to the controller, they don't cost any extra and they don't run down. Once you start deploying SCS Connect controller-equipped coolers, your iBeacon capability is just there, waiting for you to be ready to use it.

If you have figured out your iBeacon numbering system, beacon identification can be programmed in the factory or at installation, which means as soon as you roll out your App, you'll be up and running.

If you haven't figured out your numbering system, don't worry. Wellington's SCS Connect System app suite makes it easy to add do it later, once coolers are in the field.

How does iBeacon numbering work?

Each iBeacon has an ID which lets the consumer’s phone decide how to act when it “sees” the iBeacon. For Wellington’s SCS Connect controllers to act as iBeacons, they must be programmed with Beacon IDs. This can be done in the field using our Connect Field app, or automatically in the cooler manufacturer’s factory at the time of assembly. Even if it’s programmed in the factory, the ID can be changed later using Connect Field.

For us to program the IDs automatically, we need to know what numbering system you are going to use for your iBeacons. If you can’t tell us, we can create a system for you, but if you are going to use several different brands of iBeacons for your fleet it will make your life easier if they all use the same system.

The ID has three parts: UUID, Major Value, and Minor Value:

UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) is an alphanumeric number string containing 32 hexadecimal digits (16 bytes). It looks something like 5ec61e7a-3ee6-49ad-9545-8fa0e62e4677. This is used to tell the phone who the iBeacon belongs to, and therefore whose app it should react to.  Normally, you would have your own UUID, and every iBeacon in your system would have the same UUID.

There is no central system for creating UUIDs: you can just create your own, using a generator like http://openuuid.net/. This means that it’s theoretically possible someone else will create a UUID that’s the same as yours. But there are over 1038 possible numbers, so it’s not likely.

Major Value and Minor Value are both 2 byte numbers (0-65535 in decimal, or 0000-ffff in hexadecimal). They can be used however you like.

One approach is to make them all the same, e.g. Major Value = 0000, minor value = 0000. This works - there is no requirement for each ID to be unique - and it is easy. But the disadvantage is that you can’t tell the beacons apart, which means you can’t target different content to different locations, and you can’t find out which locations are getting the most traffic.

Another approach is to use the Major Value to group your iBeacons in meaningful ways, such as using a different Major Value for each store, each location type, each account, each region, or each equipment type. The Minor Value can then identify each individual beacon within that group.

The advantage of grouping beacons like this is that phones can be set to react differently to different “regions”. A “region” can be just the UUID, the UUID plus Major Value, or the UUID plus Major Value plus Minor Value. So, for example if you had one Major Value for “shoes” and another for “food” you could set your consumer app to send one message when a consumer approaches the shoes aisle, and a different one when they approach the food aisle. However this approach has some problems:

  • If your iBeacon (or the equipment it’s attached to) gets relocated, you will need to reprogram the ID
  • The ID can’t be programmed until you know what location your Beacon is going into
  • iPhones only allow 20 “regions” per app, so you can’t have more than 20 Major Value groups (this isn’t a limitation for Android, but if you want your consumer app to work on Apple you need to obey it)
  • There are only 65536 unique Minor Values, so you can only have 65536 iBeacons in each group: this may be a problem if you have a large fleet of beacons
  • Region grouping is only useful if your Beacon Manager software is not very sophisticated: the better Beacon Managers let you create beacon groups within the cloud, which lets you rearrange them however you like, and means you don’t need to rely on the actual iBeacon ID for grouping.

For this reason, where your Beacon manager can handle it, and you don’t expect to have beacons close together, Wellington recommends that Major Value and Minor Value are used purely as a unique identifier, and are allocated randomly (which gives better security than sequential IDs). If you use multiple suppliers of equipment or of iBeacons, you can allocate a range of Major IDs to each supplier, to allow them to manufacture in parallel without duplicating the numbers.


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