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How to Determine Bluetooth BLE Beacon Proximity From The Silicon Labs Blog

Symmetry Electronics Team in Blogs on February 05, 2017

About Symmetry Electronics Team

Established in 1998, Symmetry Electronics is a focused global distributor of wireless connectivity solutions, sensors, and audio-video technologies. Offering comprehensive design support and available-to-ship inventory, Symmetry is committed to helping engineers accelerate time to market, reduce costs, and offer modern solutions for their IoT designs. Acquired by the Berkshire Hathaway company TTI, Inc. in 2017, Symmetry Electronics is headquartered in Los Angeles with international offices in Mexico, Canada, and China.

To date, the only feasible answer to locate a beacon without geo-positioning information is to estimate its distance from the receiver (scanner) based on Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) and RF transmit power. The exercise spits out an approximate proximity, or an “approximity,” if you’ll allow the pun.

Part of the reason is that RF degrades in its environment according to an almost unlimited number of variables (humidity, people density, walls, wall materials, transmit power, adjacent blockers, trees, metal, etc.

Another part is that Bluetooth beacons do not have a single standardized RF output power, and therefore range can vary from under a meter, to a few meters, to more than 500 meters. A final part is that RSSI does very little to indicate directionality.



So in practice, receiving and decoding a beacon packet has limited information for calculating how near it is.

There are some bits of helpful information and techniques. The beacon’s transmit power is included in the packet structure, and most scanners, or receivers, have an RSSI. Using these two inputs, RSSI + TX Power, a receiver can approximate the distance to the beacon. Further, as multiple approximations are calculated it follows that an application can determine if the scanner is getting closer or further from the beacon.

Once the beacon location is determined, smartphone applications can store the information for subsequent encounters. When the beacon identifier and services are decoded, the smartphone or associated application already has its location stored.

Future versions of the Bluetooth specification will likely incorporate Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) and Angle-of-Departure (AoD) features which allow multi-antenna Bluetooth devices to determine the spatial location of another Bluetooth device. AoA and AoD will support high-accuracy location detection, potentially giving position accuracy to within tens of centimeters.

But standards move slowly. Until AoA and AoD are standardized, the RSSI + TX power calculation is the best approximity measurement, and changes unpredictably with the real world of walls, weather, people, and propagation.

Our experts have put some very relevant information in a whitepaper on developing with Bluetooth beacons. The goal is to help you get to market quickly with the right, stable solution.Whitepaper on Developing with Bluetooth BLE BeaconsBeacon WP CTA.png

It covers a lot of territory:

We provide a short history of Bluetooth and its derivatives, including Bluetooth low energy and beacons.We examine beacon applications to help you brainstorm some of your own.

And we provide information on end-to-end solutions to get you started.We provide references to field-hardened example code and tools to develop and deploy it.We cover the leading beacon pseudo-standards at a high level, and in detail in the Appendix.

For additional Silicon Labs product information or technical support, contact Symmetry Electronics, and authorized distributor of industry leading wireless, audio/video and embedded chips modules and development tools, call (877) 466-9722.

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Symmetry Electronics Team in Blogs on February 05, 2017

About Symmetry Electronics Team

Established in 1998, Symmetry Electronics is a focused global distributor of wireless connectivity solutions, sensors, and audio-video technologies. Offering comprehensive design support and available-to-ship inventory, Symmetry is committed to helping engineers accelerate time to market, reduce costs, and offer modern solutions for their IoT designs. Acquired by the Berkshire Hathaway company TTI, Inc. in 2017, Symmetry Electronics is headquartered in Los Angeles with international offices in Mexico, Canada, and China.

Why partner with Symmetry Electronics? Symmetry's technical staff is specially trained by our suppliers to provide a comprehensive level of technical support. Our in-house Applications Engineers provide free design services to help customers early in the design cycle, providing solutions to save them time, money and frustration. Contact Symmetry for more information.

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