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Why Bluetooth Low Energy is Vital to Beacon Technology

Created on May 18, 2015

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group recognized an opportunity to create a communication protocol that offered reduced power usage, size and cost. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), also known as Bluetooth Smart, is what makes beacon technology as dependable as it is.

A BLE beacon can run for 2 years on a single coin-cell battery. With lower power usage comes increased longevity and more opportunities for a variety of implementations.

BLE stands in contrast with other communication protocols, which have been increasing their data rates with each new spec release. Bluetooth v4.0 considerably reduced the data rate and added BLE. BLE operates in the same range as Classic Bluetooth technology. However, BLE uses a different array of channels. The technology provides connectivity to many devices, while keeping size and expense to a minimum.

BLE is inexpensive, making beacons affordable and the technology more accessible overall. In general, required memory and processing power is directly proportional to how complicated a protocol is. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group recognized that the device that implements a more simplified protocol could also be simplified. Bluetooth v4.0 focuses on moving smaller pieces of data. The resulting device implementing BLE with v4.0 is inexpensive, small and uses very little power. These factors create the ideal landscape for beacon technology.

Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) have often competed for use in similar applications, including beacons. BLE beats out NFC for use in beacon technology as it uses less power and offers a significantly greater range compared with NFC.

In fact, Apple is betting on BLE over NFC for use in beacon technology as is evident from their continued backing of iBeacon. This wireless interface can do everything NFC can and more. iBeacon utilizes BLE, which can be used for many of the same things as NFC. BLE provides additional wireless range over NFC and eliminates the need for distinct NFC hardware in mobile devices.

Bluetooth is standard on all modern smartphones. Apple introduced support for BLE in iOS 5. Google introduced support with Android 4.3, though many manufacturers had added their own BLE support much sooner. Blackberry 10 devices and Windows Phone 8 also support BLE. Therefore it is highly likely that the average smartphone user is able to engage with BLE beacons.

The ubiquitous nature of Bluetooth and BLE in the smartphone market make it the perfect communication protocol for beacons. On top of this, beacons are inexpensive, have long battery life and can be conveniently small, all due to BLE. Beacon technology is therefore accessible and highly functional.

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