What is Eddystone – Google’s beacon for Mobile Commerce

Beacons:

Beacons are low-cost, low-energy transmitters equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy transmission. This is also called as Bluetooth Smart. The BLE consumes low energy.

It all started with Apple and iBeacon technology, announced in 2013. Their major purpose is to transmit advertisement packets on a periodic basis. Beacons transmit signals which are picked up by mobile devices that have a BLE receiver in it. The mobile devices use that signal to calculate how far it is to the beacon(i.e., proximity). Smartphones decode the info received to identify the beacon. Uses the signal strength to determine how far it is.

Eddystone:

Named after a lighthouse in the UK, Eddystone is Google’s answer to Apple’s iBeacon standard. It is a new format for BLE packets( a bunch of data) that beacons broadcast. It supports cross-platform Android, iOS and any platform that supports BLE beacons.

Google provides Proximity Beacon API and Google Beacon Platform. These allow the developers to use Eddystone in their projects. Eddystone is an open protocol, i.e., its specification is available for everyone.

Types of packets:

Eddy stone broadcasts 4 different types of packets. They are:

1. Eddystone-UID:

  • It is a number which defines an identifier of a beacon
  • An app installed on the phone can use the identifier to trigger the desired action.
  • It is 16 bytes long.
  • The first 10 bytes are used for namespace and the next 6 bytes are used as a  unique identifier for the device.
  • It is not compatible with iBeacon(a beacon format from Apple) frame.

2. Eddystone-URL:

  • It is a compressed URL.
  • It is 17 bytes long.
  • It allows an app to read the URL and open it in the browser.

3. Eddystone-TLM:

  • It is Telemetry frame. It encapsulates beacon’s  health status.
  • It is also referred as the metadata about beacons & its current status like battery level.
  • If the beacon has sensors like light sensor, accelerometer, the sensor data are embedded as telemetry packets.
  • It is mainly used for fleet management and diagnostic systems.
  • Beacons broadcast TLMs less frequently than data packets.
  • This packet is broadcast alongside the Eddystone-UID or Eddystone-URL packets

4. Eddystone-EID:

  • Eddystone-EID is a format similar to Eddystone-UID, but with a single 8-byte AES-encrypted identifier that rotates every few minutes, hours or days depending on configuration.
  • A beacon transmitting EID must be registered with Google’s Proximity Beacon API using a registered project under a Google account.
  • Devices detecting an EID transmission can tell an Eddystone-EID transmitter is nearby, but cannot make sense of its identifier without credentials for the Google project/account with which it is registered.
  • To make sense of a transmission, Google’s Proximity Beacon API must be called to fetch usable information based on the ephemeral identifier.
  • This adds an additional level of security for certain applications that may not want other parties to trigger app responses with their own beacons, or reuse beacon transmissions for their own purposes.

Applications of Beacons:

Beacons have a vast variety of usage in the field of Mobile Commerce. Proximity marketing has become a rage with the help of Beacons only. Beacons have a large role in digitizing and bringing in the smartphone generation to the Brick & Mortar shops. Let us see in detail about the practical applications of the Eddystone beacon in various places.

1. Eddystone for App distribution:

You can use Eddystone to present your visitors with a link to your app on App Store or Google Play and encourage them to download it. And then once they’ve done so, the beacon will also broadcast a UID for the app to use.

2. Use the power of proximity with no app:

Using Eddystone-URL you can link to any page of your choice so you can power up your business with proximity even if you don’t have your own app.

For example, if you’re a restaurant, you may send a link to your online menu that shows up once someone enters your venue. Or, being a retailer, you may feature your current promotions, or display coupons when a mobile user is nearby.

3. Get and deliver more context

The third frame type that Eddystone broadcasts is Eddystone-TLM (Telemetry). It’s sensor-driven data on the beacon’s state and, possibly in the future, the environment around it. You could use that data to control temperature and humidity in your warehouse.

Telemetry would also enable you to trigger different actions based on various conditions. Therefore, depending on the weather, you could push notifications and invite passers-by to come by and have a cold drink or a cup of warming tea. In a hotel, you’d use that feature to adjust the temperature in rooms, based on conditions and particular guests’ preferences.

Google gets the best of both worlds here. As an open source project, Eddystone gets lots of hardware support from vendors, but if developers want to give users the best experience and have an easier time themselves, they have to submit to the walled garden. Eddystone doesn’t need to be tied to Google though, and if developers want to use their own cloud solution or client API, they can. It’s Bluetooth, so really anyone could listen to Eddystone devices, but living outside of the Google Ecosystem just means doing a little more work.

Madhan Kumar S,
Android Developer,
Mallow Technologies.

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