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Beacon Installation Considerations

Last Updated: Aug 30, 2016 10:55PM CDT

Let’s start with the basics - beacons are radios.  When you are deploying beacons, you are deploying short distance radios with low power consumption.  How many, with what strength, and what the radio is transmitting depends on your use case and needs.

Density - How many beacons do I need for XXX,XXX m2?
Each beacon is a point of reference and more beacons will give you more points of reference.  If you are interested in resolution down to a department and a single beacon can accomplish coverage of the area, install one beacon per department.  If you would like to know which 3m section of shelving a device is nearby, install a beacon in every 3m section.

Mounting Location - Where should I mount the beacons?
Beacons don’t need to be seen to be heard, but they preferably aren't placed in an area where the signal will be subject to interference or be prone to theft.  You can mount beacons within an enclosure, behind a counter, or ceiling tile with little effect on the signal.  What will affect the signal however is metal and water.  The former can amplify and shift the signal in different directions depending on the surface and orientation of the beacon.  The latter includes us humans resulting in a preference for a high mounting location.  
While mounting location can be a balance between accessibility, preferred mounting method, affects on the beacon signal, requirements of the use case, aesthetics, etc... there are adjustments that can be made at the beacon and application level to compensate for installation location.

When using beacons to estimate estimate distance or proximity it is also important to consider that the signal loss is not linear - as you move closer to the beacon the changes in signal strength will be more pronounced and so the estimation of distance changes more accurate. For this reason the beacon should be ideally mounted as close the likely position of a smartphone as possible while still avoiding obstructions. This means in venues with high ceilings e.g. greater than 3-4 metres it would be preferable to find a wall mounted location. It is also preferable to install beacons at a consistent height and location throughout the venue.

Beacon Behaviours - What Loudness and Target Speed should I set?
Loudness and Target Speed should be used to calibrate your beacons for your use case and environment.  Behaviours are intended to be taken literally to describe your target device.  Increase Loudness to increase the beacon's transmission power or range.  Talk for instance is ideal for a typical room and has a range of several meters.  Jog is ideal when your typical device needs to react quickly to beacon detection or changes in proximity and battery life is a relatively little concern.  Target Speed can also be used to compensate for environments where there is high RF interference.  Not getting enough ads?  Turn up target speed or reduce the number of updates required in your trigger.

Antenna Pattern - How should I expect the beacon to radiate?
BlueCats Beacons are omni-directional, but there still are some preferences when orienting an AA beacon.  The beacon's antenna is near the top right ear when looking at the beacon and it is preferred that the beacon isn't placed so that the antenna conflicts with the batteries (the batters are unlikely to be between the antenna and a receiving device).

Mounting Method - How should I mount the beacons?

You should mount your beacons in a manner that best suits your mounting surface.  For long term deployments, double sided mounting tape works well on most surfaces.  For short deployments, beacons can be attached with velcro or a magnet.  Our AA beacon features a mounting plate and can be attached to a surface with screws, prepared double sided mounting tape, velcro, zip ties, or a magnet.  Our coin beacon can be attached to a lanyard though its lanyard opening in addition to being affixed with double sided mounting tape.

Range - What should I expect?
Several factors can affect signal range including:
Mounting surface - A beacons signal be amplified or redirected by metal behind the antenna causing increased range in one direction and reduced range in the other

Surrounding environment - In some environments the beacon signal may be reflected down hallways and corridors for extended range
RF interference - areas heavy with other BLE devices will see reduced range.  This can be partially accounted for by increasing the Loudness and Target Speed of a beacon.

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