Proximity-aware applications are gaining momentum and, many businesses are wondering how to benefit from it. Including beacons in your mobile strategy raises some questions. In this article we are covering the hardware, and what features you should care about.
One of the most important key factors to take in account is how your hardware is powered. Most of the beacon hardware is battery-powered. Therefore, the battery life and the battery replacement should be considered, specially in large deployments. The majority of hardware manufacturers claim that battery life is up to 2 years. Bluetooth chipsets are quite similar across brands and the battery consumption mostly depends on the device configuration (range to cover and how often the signal is emitted). In our tests we have concluded that for a regular setup most of the hardware will last for 6 to 9 months. An alternative is USB-powered iBeacons, like RadBeacon (Radius Networks), or GemTot (PassKit) . Even though some layouts could be initially more expensive to install, they can save us some time on maintenance. There are alternative powering solutions (under development) like AirBeacon (Ifinity), that have rechargeable batteries using WiFi signals!
The vendor lock-in and platform openness is something that we value here at crowdsify, in order not to create hard to remove dependencies. Although most of the hardware is Apple’s iBeacon specification compliant (fortunately no problem in Android), there are some with an alternative implementations that the official platform development kits are unable to work with. For instance, that is the case of Gimbal (Qualcomm), that will make impossible to switch to another setup without a big expense. Also, your hardware parameters should be securely customizable, in order to manage and organize your beacons fleet.
The iBeacon case characteristics might be important in your deployments. First, is how to install them. If we use USB-powered beacons we should arrange some USB plugs, that would be a problem if our setup is outdoors. Most of battery-powered beacons comes with stickers. Some others, like BlueCats, provide alternative solutions like screws or magnets. If you are going to deploy outdoors, some manufacturers provide waterproof optional configuration, like iBKS (Accent-systems), or have a waterproof case like Estimote.
Lastly but not less important, the price. For most of well-known brands, device prices are between 20-30€ (small deployments) with reasonable price reductions in bulk. It is also interesting to consider importing from Chinese manufacturers where we can considerably reduce our fleet cost. Our tests so far from a couple of providers (April Beacon and Minew Technologies) have been quite successful.