infsoft header BLE beacons

Using Beacons for Indoor Positioning, Tracking and Indoor Navigation

Beacons are small radio transmitters that send out Bluetooth signals. They are available in different sizes, colors and shapes, making them suitable for a wide range of applications and allowing them to be integrated unobtrusively and easily into any environment.

The advantages of beacons speak for themselves: They are cost-effective (three to thirty euros), can be installed with minimal effort, and determine a position with an accuracy of a few meters. The BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) standard is also very energy efficient. Beacons can be used for both client-based (indoor navigation) as well as server-based (asset tracking) applications.

various beacon models

Client-Based Approach

Indoor navigation with beacons (the most common types are the iBeacon and Eddystone) offer decisive advantages for projects that are dependent on high accuracy and want to include Apple devices. Beacons enable indoor navigation when used in a client-based procedure, for example for airline passengers using an app – cross-platform and with an accuracy of up to 1 meter.

infsoft Infographic: client-based positioning using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
If the positioning data should be directly displayed on a mobile device (smartphone), the smartphone receives Bluetooth signals from beacons installed in the building and uses the signal strength measurement for localization. The device can also transfer the data to the infsoft LocAware platform®, where it is intelligently processed. The accuracy of a client-based procedure is 1-3 meters, the range up to 30 meters. When determining the position, the current floor is detected as well.

infsoft infographic: grid-based beacon deployment
In a client-based approach, a grid-based use of beacons is recommended. The number of required beacons depends on the size of the room and potential obstacles for signal propagation. It should be ensured that each point within the area to be monitored is ideally covered by three beacon signals. Otherwise it is not possible to determine the exact position. To determine the necessary number of beacons, the rooms should be measured and a floor plan with all objects should be created. As a general rule, we recommend setting the beacon's transmission power rather slightly lower while increasing the installation density. This results in a more closely meshed network with a higher positioning accuracy.

Infographic: optimal channel utilization for simultaneous use of BLE and Wi-FiBluetooth beacons normally do not affect other radio networks (interference) and they also do not interfere with medical devices. However, if you install beacons in a space with lots of Wi-Fi signals (for example, at a trade show), then interference can occur because BLE and Wi-Fi share the same frequency range (2.4 GHz). The problem can be easily avoided here by not using channels 2, 3, 4, 13 and 14 when configuring the Wi-Fi and using 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 instead. Bluetooth uses the remaining available channels to capacity in a uniform manner (frequency hopping). Advertising channels that are used for positioning are marked in red in the graphic. The blue-colored channels are reserved for additional functions such as a temperature sensor.

The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology enables battery operation over two to eight years without having to access an external power supply. Beacons can also be connected to the power supply or use lamps as a power source.

Beacons have specific indicators that can be used for allocation, differentiation and parameterization. For iBeacons, these include UUID (association to a superordinate group, e.g. "Frankfurt Airport"), Major (association to a specific group, e.g. "Terminal 1"), Minor (identification of several beacons, e.g. "Beacon #10"), TX Power (signal strength) and transmission interval.

Eddystone beacons have several "frame types" that differentiate them from the iBeacon: Eddystone UUID: (16-digit ID that indicates the group association and identity of an individual beacon), Eddystone URL (freely selectable URL) and Eddystone TLM (current status of the beacon).

There are attenuations in the signal dispersion within buildings for BLE beacons. Corresponding characteristics are taken into account when installing and during parameterization.

Low attenuation properties:
Wood, synthetic materials, glass
Medium attenuation properties: Brick, marble
High attenuation properties: Plaster, concrete, coated glass surfaces (bulletproof versions, etc.)
Extremely high attenuation properties: Metal, water (this includes people and groups of people)

  • infsoft beacon calculator icon Beacon Calculator

    Try the infsoft beacon calculator to get a rough idea of the number of beacons required for your client-based indoor positioning project. Please be aware that the amount of beacons depends on various factors, such as industry, desired accuracy, parameterization and local structural conditions.
    We are happy to advise you!

Server-Based Approach

Server-based tracking of persons or goods (beacon tracking) can be realized using appropriate receiver hardware (e.g. infsoft Locator Node, Cisco, Aruba). For this purpose, the beacon is attached to the asset to be tracked or carried by the person to be located. While tracking with well-established Bluetooth Low Energy 4 (BLE 4.0 / 4.1 / 4.2) offers accuracies of a few meters, the new Bluetooth 5.1 standard opens up new perspectives for accuracies in the submeter range. These prospects are based on the "direction finding" function of Bluetooth 5.1, which enables determining the direction of radio signals. More information on BLE 4 / 5 tags

infsoft infographic: server-based positioning with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
In the case of server-based positioning, the beacon attached to the asset being tracked sends BLE signals to receiver hardware installed in the building – infsoft Locator Beacons or infsoft Locator Nodes.

In the scenario with Locator Beacons (time-delayed tracking), the Locator Beacons transmit the received Bluetooth signals to a Locator Node within range. Thanks to their repeater functionality, the Locator Beacons can also pass the scan data among themselves in the process of transmitting it to the Locator Node. The Locator Node tranfers the collected data to the infsoft LocAware platform® via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

If only infsoft Locator Nodes are used (real-time tracking), they process the data provided by the BLE beacon and send it directly to the infsoft LocAware platform®.

In the infsoft LocAware platform®, the position is displayed on a map and motion statistics can be retrieved. The accuracy of a server-based procedure is less than 8 meters (0.5-1 meter when using Bluetooth 5.1), the range up to 75 meters.

infsoft Locator Node 1400 and Locator Beacon
Depending on the requirements regarding the tracking system, different hardware can be used to receive the beacon signals.

Real-time tracking can be realized with infsoft Locator Nodes 1100 or infsoft Locator Nodes 1400. If a slightly delayed tracking with low latency times is sufficient, infsoft Locator Beacons are used.

infsoft collage: different beacon models
Bluetooth Low Energy beacons are available from numerous vendors and come in various shapes and sizes for different use cases. Paper-thin beacons with a printed battery are ideal for very discreet and space-saving installations, for example, on ISO cards. Beacon wristbands can ensure the safety of people (e.g. patients, children, lone workers). Beacons with E-Ink display allow digital labeling of rooms, medical equipment or industrial goods.

Using the industry standard Bluetooth Smart, the solutions of infsoft are compatible with beacons of all manufacturers. infsoft does not produce beacons itself, but we are happy to put you in contact with corresponding providers.

infsoft collage: beacon with sensor function
Beacons can also provide sensor data. They may include sensor capabilities in order to allow the detection of movement (accelerometer), temperature, humidity, air pressure, light, and magnetism. This makes them particularly suitable for applications in the field of home and office automation, healthcare, retail, and industry.

More on condition sensors

Use Cases for Indoor Positioning With Beacons

There are multiple application scenarios for indoor positioning with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons. Here are some examples:

BLE beacons can be attached to valuable or expensive objects. When a beacon leaves a defined area (geofencing), an alarm is triggered or security receives a notification.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking, Geo-Based Services
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Investigation of Bicycle Theft

Employees and visitors in large buildings can be equipped with a beacon (ID card format). In case of an emergency it is then possible to determine the number and position of people still in the building and to evacuate them.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Evacuation of Employees and Visitors

Each object that should be tracked is equipped with a tiny beacon sticker. The position and characteristics of the objects (department, purchasing date, value, etc.) can be displayed in a web interface at any time.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Inventory of Economic Assets on Company Premises

Beacons enable indoor navigation for airline or rail passengers. Using an app, they can easily find the right gate/track or important points of interest such as cash machines, rest rooms and ticket counters. This works with Android and iOS devices.

Software solution used: Indoor Navigation
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Intermodal Travel Planning

Digital services help companies to optimize processes, further improve the customer experience and offer customer and business insights.

Software solution used: Indoor Navigation, Geo-Based Services
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Digital Services for Hotel Guests and Staff

A tracking solution with E-Ink display ensures the proper condition of hospital beds, facilitates the work of hospital staff and enables a smooth process flow.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Tracking Solution with Information Display for Hospital Beds

In large warehouses, indoor navigation and Pick-to-Light solutions can make picking processes more efficient.

Software solution used: Indoor Navigation, Indoor Tracking
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Indoor Navigation and LED Identification of Goods in Logistics

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