Tag Archives: Beacons

Quien es Mas Macho? A Beacon Battery Brouhaha!

There’s not a lot of networky substance here, so if you’re looking for that, well- you just keep moving. But, if you’ve been following what’s going on with beacons and location services that use these little gems, you might want to keep reading.

I give you… Exhibit A.

Beacon2

At the top, we see The Aruba (Meridian) BT-100 beacon, which was given to me at Wireless Field Day 8 as I sipped a cold one and got briefed on lofty tech topics at Levi’s Stadium by Aruba’s SMEs (I run in those circles). At the bottom, we have the Gimbal beacon, by Qualcomm. This was another freebie, which I scored during a promotion. Each has it’s place in the beacon universe, with the power to help build amazing success stories in the field of location based applications and services.

This isn’t a Beacon X vs Beacon Y smackdown in the making- but it is an opportunity to point out a pretty important point about beacons.

I give you… Exhibit B.

beacon 1

Using my world-class Leatherman Skeletool CX (special Kieth Parsons Edition), I jimmied my way into the innards of each beacon with the precision maneuvers of a skilled surgeon. And what I saw made me do some thinkin’ about the powerful lonely feeling that grips a man when batteries go dead and whatever the thingy is in play stops working. Which brings me to the points of this blog:

  • Some batteries are bigger than others
  • Bigger batteries have more capacity
  • More batteries combine for more capacity
  • More batteries that are bigger combine for even more capacity

Sounds so simple, right? The implications aren’t so profound if whatever you’re doing with beacons only needs a few of them in easy-to-reach places. But I have been to Levi’s Stadium, oh yes I have, and I can testify that copious amounts of beacons are in use and not all are easy to get to. This is an example of a place where beacon battery brevity blows. 

You want loooong battery life in many beacon situations, and out of the box the BT-100 promises an impressive 1,460 days. For those not up on Common Core math yet, that equals 4 years. By contrast, the Gimbal above is rated for “many months” (I got about 6-7 months out of mine).

The Gimbal uses the CR2032 battery, whereas the BT-100 uses two of the phat-daddy CR2477 cells. This is the biggest “watch battery” I’ve ever seen, personally.

What’s the Big Deal?

To me, battery refresh on deployed beacons has the potential to significantly add to total TCO where hundreds are deployed, especially if ladders need to be climbed and maintenance windows need to be followed. This simple example shows that not all beacons will have the same battery life, based solely on the battery used (note- I’m leaving out some important operational parameters that impact battery life, but these are beyond what I’m trying to get across here).

There are many, many more beacons on the market than just these two, but if you’re going down the beacon path, make sure you consider expected battery life as you make your choices.


Just getting started with beacons? Here are a couple of blogs I wrote up as I went from knowing absolutely nothing about beacons to knowing enough to be able to not be totally clueless.

Beacon Baby Steps
A Little More on Beacons

Become Aware of Wi-Fi Aware

It looks we’re on the verge of another one of those Wi-Fi features that seems like (maybe?) it’s a good thing for wireless users of a certain mindset, but perhaps not so much for those of us in the business of business WLAN. The topic is Wi-Fi Aware, and it’s time we wireless administrator types started paying attention- before the expected deluge of devices later this year or early next.

I’ll start by admitting I know that I don’t know a lot about Wi-Fi Aware, but I’m trying to grasp the potential implications from both the client and system ends. I do know that Wi-Fi Aware is being touted as both a services discovery mechanism for seeing what your fellow clients are capableof, and is something akin to beacons for location-based triggering except with a much longer range. Supposedly, the framework is opt-in/out per application, and you share whether your device advertises or accepts interactions with other wireless users. There aren’t yet many client devices out with the capability, but they will definitely come in the months to come.

Wi-Fi Aware is stirring up a lot of media attention, but before I share a couple of examples, it’s worth pointing out that this is yet another baby of the Wi-Fi Alliance. If you want to start learning about Wi-Fi Aware, I recommend you first visit the Alliance’s pages on it:

Because it’s new, there is a lot of speculation about how Wi-Fi Aware might get used, but little in the way of real-world example yet. Nonetheless, here are a couple of speculative articles to prime the pump: Wi-FI Aware and the IoT, and all your devices will connect instantly. There are plenty more to be found with simple Internet search.

It’s way too early to form a reality-based opinion on Wi-Fi Aware, but I can tell you one thing that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Like with many of it’s initiatives, the Wi-Fi Alliance does no real favors to enterprise Wi-Fi folks with early hype on Wi-Fi Aware. This feature set is very much client to client before and outside of the clients actually being on the WLAN- which means it’s one more thing the WLAN is likely to get blamed for when some aspect of Wi-Fi Aware doesn’t work as expected. It would be great if the Alliance would go so far as to say:

  • Here’s what it means to home wireless networks
  • Here’s what it means to public wireless networks
  • Here’s what it means to captive portal Wi-Fi networks
  • Here’s what it means to 802.1x secure WLAN

Given that client-to-client actions can trigger attempts to join and use Wi-Fi infrastructure networks, it would be great if some of the nitty-gritty was shared up front rather than left to admins to suffer through. 

Here’s where I’ll admit to being a bit pissy about the Wi-Fi Alliance. I’m pleased that they are so into new feature sets and the like, but it very much feels like they have pretty much turned their backs on the enterprise wireless demographic in favor of simply pushing product to non-business consumers. 

Where the consumer and enterprise worlds collide, it’s up to the WLAN admin to clean up the frequent messes while the Alliance either stays quiet or simply pipes up with a Neanderthal-like “Wi-Fi good. Buy more Wi-Fi”.
Let’s hope Wi-Fi Aware proves to be more friendly to the enterprise than I’m expecting. Meanwhile, it’s time to start learning about it.

Have you formed any opinions yet about Wi-Fi Aware? Do you have any expected business use cases in mind? Have you found any decent technical articles that help explain what Wi-Fi Aware might really be about? Please share, and thanks for reading.

A Little More on Beacons- Promise and Frustrations

Last week, Beacon Fever bit me, as I described here. Since then, I’ve made little progress in actually doing anything of real-world value with the three Qualcomm Gimbal beacons that I have on hand. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t gained a bit of an education in the few hours I’ve noodled around with them as I’ve consorted with The Google on where to go next. Allow me to share just a little more on Beacons, then I’ll likely put the topic away for a while.

What I’ve Learned:

  • There is a good variety of beacon hardware out there. Here’s another list
  • If you don’t want to $pend, Android and iDevices can be configured to act as beacons for testing
  • There are lots of mobile beacon management and scanning apps out there- some from the beacon manufacturers and some from 3rd party developers
  • The entire proximity paradigm with beacons is built on leveraging “degrees of nearby-ness” like near, far, immediate vicinity, out of range
  • Beacons can be USB powered, or battery powered. If using battery, there will be administrative burden of battery upkeep in large deployments over time
  • Beacons don’t just magically come to life, you have to activate them and do a basic config
  • Every beacon maker seems to have their own management console
  • You can see where heavy beacon use would very much be “another thing to manage”, despite having really cool real-world use cases
  • A “UUID” gets assigned to all beacons in an organization that will be part of the same “system”
  • Each beacon can make use of a Major and Minor field to further segment/identify them
  • Without an application to use with them, beacons aren’t real exciting
  • To leverage beacons, SOMEBODY has to do some coding, and there are a number of frameworks to do that in
  • For people like me, who are definitely not endowed with coding skills, some companies are trying to make “getting started” a little easier
  • There are a lot of beacon videos on YouTube, and blogs from others’ efforts to be had online
  • It doesn’t look like all vendors beacons are welcome in each other’s development environments
  • Connected users “opt in” by enabling Bluetooth on their smartphones, tablets, etc.

That’s the short of it for me, so far, on actual knowledge gained. I also tried to do more with my Gimbal beacons, but found some frustrations- like simply setting the UUID, Major and Minor fields. It looks like other vendors make this a lot more intuitive, but perhaps my lack of experience is the problem here. On my Gimbal developer account, I understand each individual word but get foggy when you put it all together in phrases and sentences. There is a Gimbal iOS management app, but none for Android that I have found yet.

I did discover a couple of promising leads for myself in learning more, as a mental-midget when it comes to programming. Estimote makes a popular kit that comes with three beacons, and from what I can tell their app-building tools seem to have folks like me in mind. But… each kit is $99, and indoor location requires two kits (for some unspecified reason). I’m not ready to drop $200 on beacons yet, but maybe at some point.  And… Meridian (An Aruba HP company) also seems to understand that some of us need all the help we can get. They put a very friendly face on getting started, and I hope to learn more about this product set/application framework in the months to come.

So… that’s all on beacons from me for now. If anyone reading gets further with these fascinating little transmitters, please share what you learn.