Bluetooth, BLE, BLE tag, Bluetooth beacon, and iBeacon Technology
Bluetooth is the short-range wireless technology we all know from our wireless earphones, wireless speakers, and car kits.
BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy and is simply an extremely low power mode of operation for Bluetooth. Therefore, everything classified as BLE is also Bluetooth but not vice-versa.
A Bluetooth beacon, a BLE beacon tag, and a BLE tag all refer to the same thing: a device that uses BLE to send out short messages such as numbers, a string of text, or a web address. One way to picture it is a loudspeaker that blurts out the same short message every second, except that the beacons don’t use audio transmission but rather radio signals.
Other Bluetooth devices, such as smartphones or dedicated beacon receivers, receive these messages.
As you may have guessed, an iBeacon is a BLE beacon that follows Apple’s design specifications. Many BLE beacons support the Apple iBeacon format, but there are other formats as well, such as Eddystone.
When BLE tags are used in supply chains, they usually serve the same purpose as a barcode or an RFID tag: to uniquely identify the product to which it’s attached. BLE technology solves some of the problems of the RFID tag:
● The BLE tag range is typically 20m (60ft), which is 4 to 20 times larger than RFID.
● BLE beacon receivers are usually less expensive than RFID readers.
● The more extended range of BLE beacon receivers means fewer receivers are required.
It’s still important to note that BLE beacons still have their disadvantages:
● BLE is more expensive than RFID.
● BLE stops working if a few hundred BLE beacons are in the same space. The underlying reason for this is that Bluetooth was designed as a consumer-applications technology, where relatively few devices contend for airtime.
● It is nearly impossible to achieve 100% coverage of a warehouse using Bluetooth or BLE beacons. The more objects between the BLE beacon and the beacon receiver, the lower the chance of a good connection.