BeaconControl: Open Source Beacon Management

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Launching this week, BeaconControl is an open source platform for managing proximity experiences using Bluetooth LE beacons.

It promises to help extend the stack of tools available to developers, organizations and brands and allow for more seamless integration with existing systems.

“The platform eliminates the need to focus on low level issues such as hardware integration, security and beacon deployment,” Marley Fabisiewicz, Founder of BeaconControl, tells me.

His Warsaw software agency Upnext has developed BeaconControl. The open source platform includes a suite of software tools which includes:

  • SDKs for iOS and Android
  • An open source Web management tools based on Ruby on Rails (with a RESTful API), and
  • A free mobile app for beacon deployment and set up.

The company is partnering with Kontakt.io to provide the first “deep integration” with the physical beacon itself.

This allows developers and organizations to physically configure a Kontakt beacon and have that configuration link to the BeaconControl dashboard.

Why Beacon Management is Needed

When Apple launched support for Bluetooth LE proximity detection through its iBeacon specification (and accompanying iOS developer tools), brands and organizations often struggled to both understand and implement beacons into their mobile experiences:

  • You needed beacons. Most of the beacons on the market came with back-end management systems. Some of those systems were required if you wanted to use that vendor’s beacon. Gimbal was an early example of a beacon company whose back-end system (while rich and robust) was what you were really buying when you bought one of their beacons.
  • You could use third-party management systems. If you chose beacons that didn’t require that you use their management systems you could turn to one of the dozens of start-ups offering proximity management platforms.
  • You could choose to build your own proximity management system. This could be a costly proposition. It came with the added challenge that the technology was relatively new, support for Android was still in its early days, and best practices for user experiences were yet to be established.

With Google announcing more robust support for proximity and beacon detection and putting their weight behind the Physical Web (through the open source Eddystone protocol), the management of beacons has become even more complex.

And while Google itself now offers a degree beacon fleet management services and basic tools for delivering content, a developer or business still needs to think about how their beacon infrastructure will support the end user experience across a myriad of devices – from Android phones to Apple Watch.

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Building an Open Source Beacon Management Community

BeaconControl hopes to help accelerate the proximity industry by making its tools available under an open source license, and to encourage developers and engineers to support its development.

Fabisiewicz tells me that developer involvement will help build momentum for BeaconControl:

We have already entered great partnerships with the Silicon Allee campus in Berlin and the NewLab in New York City to develop sustainable, “technology enabled workspaces” based on BeaconControl. We are in talks with various startups and corporations who have expressed interest in BeaconControl. But at the moment we would love to see developers start using the platform and contribute to the movement.

Developers can check out the BeaconControl code on GitHub and contribute to improving the web-side management dashboard.

For the more technically-minded, Fabisiewicz explains the architecture:

The core stack is Ruby on Rails and that’s how it will stay in the future as we deeply believe in Ruby on Rails.

In terms of mobile integration we are already providing iOS SDK and Android SDK is coming soon, so the mobile mobile landscape is currently covered.

Beacon Control is designed with Service Oriented Architecture in mind, so that any technology stack can integrate it and use it through the REST APIs. Depending on community feedback, we will consider developing wrappers in other languages.

What Does It Mean for Businesses?

For organizations looking to deploy beacons, you need more than just a device. You need a way to manage the interactions that go with a beacon.

You can choose a beacon provider who has accompanying dashboard and management tools, but risk vendor lock-in. Or you can work with a “platform” (from Urban Airship to any of the dozens of proximity providers who specialize in the field).

These approaches have pros and cons: from cost efficiency and speed-to-market, to being able to rely on vendors whose sole purpose is often thinking about and developing for proximity.

But if you have the resources, or if you have the need to integrate proximity campaigns into existing systems, developing your own beacon solution has often seemed a viable approach.

Now, you’ll have the option of using an open source library to get your project started.

Developers Unite!

If it can involve a larger group of developers, BeaconControl could potentially become an emerging standard for proximity management.

With a new generation of sensors and beacons on the horizon, this open source approach can give the industry a leg-up on its ability to respond to technical change.

Its founder tells me that:

We are at the very beginning of proximity technology and we think that BeaconControl can evolve into a platform that supports various types of sensors in the future. Currently Mesh beacons are a very interesting technology, they can turn the current generation of location-broadcasting beacons into a two-way, Net-connected network. Generally we think that proximity technology has the potential to change the world, but it will take time and a lot of effort like with mobile payments.

BeaconControl might also be a sign of things to come. As the industry shakes out, more companies may choose to open source parts of their technology in order to focus on other areas: consulting, analytics or infrastructure management.

For Upnext, BeaconControl is the perfect fit for an agency that focuses on innovation and mobile experiences.

As Fabisiewicz tells me, BeaconControl opens up a range of possibilities for his company:

First and foremost, we are aiming to create a community that builds the physical web and the IOT. We are trying to give innovators and technologists a headstart with our platform. We will eventually make money by consulting with companies to integrate BeaconControl into their applications. We are also thinking of marketplace (like an app strore) for BeaconControl where the entire community can distribute their add-ons for BeaconControl and monetize them.

BeaconControl will help to kickstart new forms of innovation in the proximity industry and will attract developers who are inspired by working together to create new standards and best practices. It represents a milestone on the beacon industry and is, perhaps, a sign of things to come.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons, Eddystone and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Is BeaconControl what you were waiting for? How do you think an open source proximity management platform will impact the industry? Will start-ups who sell proprietary solutions need to consider their own open source strategies? Drop a comment below, or pop me a note on Twitter.

8 Responses to “BeaconControl: Open Source Beacon Management”

  1. Congrats again Doug. This BeaconControl announcement is one of the most interesting events in the life of the beacosystem for some time.

    An open source platform like this is a good idea. It’s another validation of the market, it makes the beacosystem more attractive, and it is an illustration of where the value is.

    However, I recommend UpNext position themselves away from “Beacon Management” (which I don’t think they do much of) and clarify what their actual focus is.

    Beacon management, a.k.a. fleet management, includes changing configuration parameters, security, power management, monitoring the health of beacons, detailed hardware inventory, alerting/trouble ticketing and provisioning software updates.

    Even with the advent of Eddystone, telemetry frames and the Proximity API, this is an area that lacks standards. This means it’s going to be a huge amount of work to integrate all these features for the highly fragmented, hundred plus beacon vendors out there (see Proxbook.com). Each beacon vendor has their own way of doing these things. While that’s a painfully large development task, its doable. The larger amount of work would be doing business development from Poland to convince each of the beacon vendors to cooperate. It’s going to be hard to gain the support of beacon vendors if BeaconControl is competing with them in a domain where the beacon vendor is seeking to build value i.e. “fleet management”.

    The good news is that what BeaconControl appear to actually be doing, is what a number of us are calling “Orchestration”. Orchestration is what folks like Rover Labs, Pulsate, Urban Airship and LocalSocial do. It’s a big market, with lots of opportunity and is less encumbered by the proprietary aspects of beacons. This Orchestration layer includes: content management, campaign management, push, frequency capping, all the tools that are required to make beacons smart, to deliver value to applications. This is important work that brands care about and are willing to spend money on.

    That said, UpNext still have a lot on their plate in order for BeaconControl to be successful. As well as delivering on significant depth of functionality that the SAAS vendors (mentioned earlier) have been refining, in production rollouts, they still need the cooperation of the Beacon vendors to open up their beacon access control APIs. These APIs being the proprietary equivalent of what we hope to see Google deliver with Eddystone Ephemeral IDs. Without those hooks BeaconControl will be left orchestrating applications using beacons that are not secured, which I’m guessing is a minority of beacons these days (although I’d love to see some statistics).

    It’s going to be hard to get that cooperation if UpNext position BeaconControl as a management platform. Granted “Orchestration” is a term made up to, to make sense of the beacosystem, but if Beacon Control can focus on that part of the market, I think there is a great opportunity for them.

    Regards,
    Steve

    Reply
  2. Steve –

    Thanks for the comment. The error is in part mine!

    I had a hard time threading the needle on beacon management vs proximity management – the latter the term I use for the layer above the device, although I like orchestration a lot more!

    All credit to Kontakt.io for being first in – and hopefully not last in! BeaconControl will, indeed, get the most traction if it can convince other device makers to open up access a bit more to direct control of the beacon from third-party systems. A tough call to make but perhaps something that can act as the “glue” to hold all of these competing systems together.

    Regardless, an interesting time – both for the industry and for our definitions of its components.

    Best.

    Reply
  3. Matthew Pavy

    As always excellent content Doug, this announcement would have been what i was looking for almost 2 years ago, until i was able to understand enough to know I didn’t have a clue what was involved for a deployment at scale, i assume there are budding entrepreneurs just waiting to capitalize on what upnext says “No technical skills are required to configure beacons, assign actions and triggers or drop in add-ons to extend functionality.” I like that the opensource will help developers unite, however rushing into an ibeacon campaign without the all the tools needed for relevant and valuable customer exchanges that a Proximity solution provider offers, will no doubt sour some to beacons. Looks like its the gold rush and they just laid tracks to the klondike. but many will get there and realize they have no pickaxe….just as I did. Great comment also Steve. blogs and comments like this help me realize how much i got to learn. Very exciting time for the market. Keep on trudging as will I.

    Reply
  4. Doug, Steve, great comments. It’s a good initiative by Upnext and it’s the right step to open source the holistic solution, not just the mobile SDKs or some components as others are doing.

    Still, I have doubts that larger proximity service providers will adopt it, because they invested a lot in their own platforms with more enterprise-focused features using a different technology stack (rarely RoR). BeaconCtrl without Eddystone, Android, Security, beacon health status support is still at a very early stage but promising. It’s definitely a quick start for other agencies or smaller proximity projects (e.g. single venues like the coworking spaces or showrooms).

    What’s clear, there is not a lot of value in simple “beacon management” from a business perspective as it’s not defensible but on the other side it’s only a small part of any bigger proximity project from our perspective and thus “commodity”.

    Let’s see what companies are supporting their initiative, but adding “addons” to their system is a good and suitable approach for everyone.

    Reply
  5. Doug,

    Very well written article, and I like the experiential angle you highlight here and Steve’s comments which is very different than the ‘messaging/notification/tracking’ then handoff SDK model that seems much more prevalent from beacon manufacturers. I agree with on an experiential solution that requires no programming that can have the opportunity to lower the barriers to entry. To put in on your radar, a US based company, Place Global, offers this type of solution and is in version 1.4 of their full suite currently. You might want to take a look for future article, consideration. http://www.placeglobal.com

    Reply
  6. Good day, I need an ibeacon cms and hybrid app, could you assist?

    Reply
  7. Cool, is there any implementation for Eddystone Beacon with hybrid app ?

    Reply

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