Not all beacons will be stuck to the underside of a shelf or above the doorway of your local shop.
RadBeacon by Radius Networks is a reminder that in the battle of the beacons one of the biggest challenges is battery life – but that there’s a way to overcome it.
We finally got around to experimenting with RadBeacon this past weekend. And the tiny little devices were a revelation.
The first revelation about RadBeacon was how damn simple they are to use and set up. If you’ve experimented with a beacon “dongle” before you’ve probably set up a virtual beacon on your Mac or PC. There’s some finicky work you need to do.
But with RadBeacon you just plug it into a USB port and it’s broadcasting.
No need to pull a tab to activate the battery and no need to figure out how you’re going to fix it to the wall (or in the case of Estimote, where it’s easy to put on a wall because of it’s amazing adhesive, no need to figure out how you’ll cut the case open in a year to change the battery).
The signal strength is consistent and well calibrated out of the box. We had our app ‘hearing’ the beacon in minutes and the response times were excellent.
Which is part of the RadBeacon secret: because the challenge for manufacturers is finding a balance between advertising frequency and battery life: set the frequency too low and your app will be sluggish in response, set it too high and your battery will drain in no time.
RadBeacon overcomes those issues by dispensing with the battery entirely.
Who Needs a Battery?
It was a bit of a revelation to us: a beacon without a battery seemed counter-intuitive to how we’d been thinking about iBeacon.
But with the Apple specification for iBeacon now available via NDA we’re also told that the company has required a relatively high advertising frequency. While manufacturers might allow you to change the frequency after delivery, this would be contrary to the iBeacon specification.
What does this mean? For many of the Bluetooth LE beacons on the market that have been designed to preserve battery life by delivering a relatively modest frequency interval they’ll need to increase the frequency and sacrifice battery life.
But it’s not just compatibility with the iBeacon specification that has us wondering whether some of the battery-powered beacons will take a beating.
We also got to wondering how many use cases require a beacon that you affix to a wall.
And the truth is that in most cases a single beacon will do: whether for a small coffee shop, retailer, venue or other location a single beacon added to a USB port on a cash register is about all you need to personalize an in-store experience.
And with 2-3 beacons broadcasting at a high signal, you can actually do relatively accurate triangulation.
Who Needs USB?
Another misconception is that because RadBeacon use USB it needs a connection to a computer. This might be a hold-over from experiences with virtual beacons. But in the case of RadBeacon the USB is only acting as a power supply and nothing more.
Sure, pop it into your computer and your beacon is running. But you can also buy a $10 adapter, plug it into your wall, and pop the beacon in there.
For a commercial gallery, say, a RadBeacon could be put in the computer at the front desk, and one or two could be popped into a standard wall socket.
But the real delight of RadBeacon came with the companion app that allows you to set the TX power, advertising interval, UUID and major/minor numbers.
The app is slick and intuitive to use and made calibrating easy and, well, kind of fun.
But the companion app contains an important reminder: that beacon security should never be overlooked. Nor should certifications.
In fact, one of the main criteria of the new Apple iBeacon specification is the requirement that manufacturers get the proper certifications for their devices. Many manufacturers lack Bluetooth certification and have few (if any) options for security (although most promise that it’s coming “soon”).
RadBeacon has tackled these issues and deployed a thoughtful approach to beacon security including a “lock down” of the beacon itself to prevent hacking, options for PIN numbers, locks and measures for anti-spoofing.
So consider us fans – the RadBeacon s a go-to beacon for cases where you don’t need dozens of beacons affixed to store shelves and where the huge benefits of a dedicated power supply, high advertising frequency and variable TX power are needed to create a more seamless user experience than you can get from a battery-powered device (unless, of course, you don’t mind changing batteries every few months).
Give Us A Follow
If you’re a developer are you seeing a difference in responsiveness to beacons? Let us know in the comments below.