Intro to Beacons for Arts Managers

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,

What Exactly is a Beacon and Why Does it Sort of Sound Familiar?

Beacons, beacons, beacons…the new it-girl of the retail world. But, what exactly are they talking about? What is a beacon?

Beacons are tiny battery-powered devices, about the size of your palm, that emit Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – allowing for location based marketing on a micro level. BLE emits less energy than normal Bluetooth, as the name suggests, so battery drain will be less on phones.

When a visitor walks into your space, their phone picks up the BLE signal sent to their phone by beacons.  There is no exchange of data unless the phone user allows it. A beacon could emit an advertisement or promotion to the users phone, or ask for customer information. The collection of this information is at the discretion of the user.

Beacons focus on the consumer, the integral part of any organization regardless of industry. So far, beacons are most common in the retail world, but they can easily be transferred into other industries, like the arts. That’s why you’re here today. Beacons could transform your organization, and I’m here to navigate you through this process in an understandable way.


                       "Estimote" by Sam Churchill,

                       "Estimote" by Sam Churchill,

Why Should You Care About Beacons?

Connecting the real and digital worlds, beacons will prove to be excellent pieces not only for marketing and general propaganda about your specific location, but as informational tools in your museum or performing arts company.

Each beacon uses Universal Unique Identifiers (UUIDs) or Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs) depending on their infrastructure (iBeacon vs. Eddystone debate discussed below). These identifiers are specific to each organization, and can be used for specified reasons. These identifiers prompt an app to open on the users phone, regardless if the app is already open or not, and activates the desired use of the advertisement or other propaganda on their phone.


Some ways arts organization could utilize beacons include:

·      Personalized Assistance

·      Loyalty Programs

·      Immersive Personal Experiences

·      General Organization Information or Q&A

·      Adding to Educational Programs via Personalized Content

·      Deals of the Day

·      Aiding Receptivity of Organization Apps (e.g. maps)


These are just some applications for beacons in arts organizations.


The Components That Make up Beacon Technology

Beacons consist of four main components: hardware, firmware, cloud infrastructure, and mobile SDK.

Beacon hardware: Beacon hardware consists of a BLE radio chip and a battery. Most beacons use coin cell batteries, but Alkaline AA batteries and external power are also an option on select models. All of these types of batteries are commonly found in everyday items and easily replaceable in beacons on an as-needed basis.

Beacon Firmware: Firmware specifically controls the characteristics that influence how long the battery will last. This is broken up into two parts: transmit power and advertising intervals. Transmit power simply means the signal it transmits and how far it can reach. A higher transmit power has a longer distance of signal strength, but shorter battery life; while, a lower transmit power has a shorter range but longer battery life.

Next, an advertising interval is the frequency at which these signals are being emitted. Different than transmit power, a high advertising interval prolongs battery life, but it also weakens responsiveness to phones in emitting messages. Usually beacons transmit a couple times per second. There's no perfect balance concerning advertising intervals; it just rather depends on if the organization prefers longer battery life or better receptiveness to phones.

Cloud infrastructure: Beacon cloud infrastructures are basically the brains of the operation. The cloud operates as the behind-the-scenes director of the show, while the BLE signal is emitted seamlessly to its intended target, your constituent’s phone.

Mobile SDK: Mobile SDK stands for Mobile Software Development Kit. This is integral to the beacon process in that it communicates with the cloud server and acts as the liaison to its location-based behavior as it receives actions.


Comparison of 16 major beacon hardware of battery life in months (higher is better) by Aislelabs' The Hitchhikers Guide to iBeacon Hardware.

Comparison of 16 major beacon hardware of battery life in months (higher is better) by Aislelabs' The Hitchhikers Guide to iBeacon Hardware.


Eddystone vs. iBeacon: Which Infrastructure is Better?

Now that we know what a beacon is and are starting to understand the components behind its technology, let's talk about different beacon infrastructures. Apple has been the beacon king since the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013 where it launched the iBeacon. More recently in July 2015, Google introduced Eddystone, an interface compatible on both iOS and Android systems. Check out the points below to see some of the ways iBeacon and Eddystone are utilizing beacon technology.



·      Made by Apple

·      Introduced in 2013

·      Infrastructure built with iOS in mind

·      Uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

·      Utilizes contextual information

·      Involves Universal Unique Identifiers (UUIDs)



·      Made by Google

·      Launched this past July 2015

·      Infrastructure built for both iOS and Android

·      Uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

·      Utilizes contextual information

·      Open format available on Github

·      Involves Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs)

·      Will integrate into Google Maps and Google Now

·       Involves URL address (Eddystone URL)

·       Involves Telemetry (TLM) data


Since its launch in July, Eddystone has become another competitor in the Google versus Apple debate. These different infrastructures are definitely something to watch and learn more about in the coming months when Eddystone is finished being tested on a variety of beacon hardware, where of which Eddystone-compatible beacons can be sold straight off the shelf.

Stay tuned for our next chapter of Intro to Beacons for Arts Managers for a close look at how beacons could be used in performance and visual arts organizations.