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Google reveals open specification for BLE beacons

Posted: 21 Jul 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google? BLE? beacon? Bluetooth low energy? Apple?

Google has announced an open specification for Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons that it hopes can inspire developers, marketers and hardware makers to adopt its technology alongside, or in place of, the iBeacon system offered by Apple.

Beacons are simple hardware devices that transmit an identification code to devices configured to be attentive to the BLE signal, which typically travels up to 100m. Mobile apps receiving that code can then respond with a notification or other action that's contextually relevant to the location of the device and its owner.

Apple introduced its iBeacon protocol two years ago as a way to engage consumers with mobile devices, and its technology has spurred significant interest among marketers and hardware makers. Last year, the company began certifying devices using its iBeacon trademark through its MiFi Licensing Programme. The programme requirements prompted iBeacon licensee Radius Networks to alter its product documentation and to disassociate its Android iBeacon Library from iBeacon product listings.

While Android developers can still create apps that communicate with iBeacon hardware, Google has reason to promote an open-source alternative, particularly now that Facebook is promoting beacons and Twitter has invested in beacon firm Swirl.

Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons

(Image: Google)

Google is calling its beacon protocol Eddystone, a name that comes from a lighthouse in England. It's available on GitHub, under the Apache 2.0 license. The software supports Android, iOS, and many BLE devices. It is compliant with the Bluetooth Core Specification. In contrast to iBeacon, it also supports multiple types of data (frame types). So while an iBeacon is limited to broadcasting an identification code, an Eddystone beacon could transmit an identification code, or a URL, or telemetry data about voltage or device temperature.

Google is also releasing two APIs: The Nearby API for Android and iOS, which allows developers to create publish and subscribe methods to share messages and connections between nearby devices, and the Proximity Beacon API, to manage data associated with a BLE beacon through a REST interface.

The Nearby API is part of Google Play Services, which isn't open source. Eddystone beacons don't require these APIs but they're easier to implement with them.

Radius Networks has already created an open source beacon system, AltBeacon. Presumably, Google's offering can coexist.

Beacons are commonly marketed to help people find their way around, and to provide information to them relevant to specific locations, such as digital coupons in store aisles, bus schedules at bus stops, and historical information in museums.

"Just like lighthouses have helped sailors navigate the world for thousands of years, electronic beacons can be used to provide precise location and contextual cues within apps to help you navigate the world," explained Google engineering director Chandu Thota and product manager Matthew Kulick.

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