What is Internet of things and Bluetooth Smart!

Technology has always materialized human life. It brings more efficiency and better accuracy in usage of resources & human efforts. And definitely with these advantages everything around us becomes economically beneficial and prompts us to indulge more into an easy lifestyle. So to see, technology therefore is penetrating so much into our daily life.
To better understand what is Internet of Things, take a scenario that can explain how it can make life easier. Just think after a long tired day when you enter into your room the lights will be switched on automatically & by analyzing the atmosphere your AC will be switched on with particular temperature settings.
These devices can also learn from your preferences & can change the settings on their own.
And the moment you leave the room, the lights, the AC will be switched off as these devices can sense whether there is any person in the room or not.
Like these, many other devices can act smartly to be more efficient. Such device together can form a network & the concept is called as Internet of Things or simply IoT.
Let us discuss, What is Internet of things & what technologies can be used for it.
Internet of things or internet of everything is basically a network. A network made of things like a person, an animal or any physical object.
Above is an example of a network that connects different kind of objects. These objects form a network which can be called as Internet of Things.
This concept was theorized a decades before, that Objects & People can be connected wirelessly.
What makes these things special is: these are embedded with softwares, sensors & electronics. These abilities make any object or people to be a part of an IoT network & gives the way to communicate with others. This thing also contains an unique identifier that helps to identify it in the particular network.
The communication doesn’t require any human to human or human to machine interaction.
With the sensors & electronics the special things can be sensed and controlled remotely across an existing network infrastructure.
The communication medium can use various wireless technologies available like.
1. Wi-Fi
2. Bluetooth
3. Infrared
4. GPS and others
A network can use more than one wireless technology together for data exchanging.
Bluetooth technology has gained more attention recently, because of its new version Bluetooth 4.0, famously known as BLE or Bluetooth Low Energy. BLE is also referred to as Bluetooth Smart.
BLE can be defined as a wireless technology used for transmitting data over short distances, it is power friendly; designed for low energy consumption and cost effective at the same time.
Now the question arises- how is it different from the previous version of bluetooth? Let’s see a comparison with the old Bluetooth also termed as Classic Bluetooth.
This table pretty clearly states the advantages of BLE. The points like low power consumption & less connection setup time, makes it unique. On a coin cell battery you can run a BLE device for more than a year, of course it depends on the implementation.
In a BLE paradigm, there can be four roles for a device.
These four roles operate in pairs.
First pair would be Central-Peripheral, where a Central is something which scans for other devices & looks for advertisements & on the other hand the peripheral which makes the advertisement.
In this pair you will need to setup the connection first, so the central device can set the connection with the peripheral and request for more data. This pair works on the request, response model.
The other pair is an interesting one. The best thing about this pair is, you don’t need to set a connection. The broadcaster is a device which simply broadcasts the data packet unaware of any other devices. And the Receiver receives the data transmitted from the broadcaster.
No connection, no requests & no responses. Simply throw the data & compatible device will read it & will use for its purpose.
Now we know about the BLE & how it can differentiate device with various categories. But before actually transmitting data, you must know what is the structure of data inside the Bluetooth device.
Here comes the profile, basically profile is a specification on how a peripheral device exposes its data. All BLE devices use the profile that is based on GATT. Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) is a specification for sending & receiving the small data over BLE network & this small piece of data is called an attribute.
The structure of a GATT profile is shown above. A profile is a collection of services.
A service describes the functions of a device. Therefore in devices with different kind of sensors or features (like heart rate monitor sensor or weighing machine) there will be a service respective to each feature or sensor.
The service is a collection of characteristics, a characteristic is used to transfer data value between devices. For e.g. A weight measurement service characteristic can be a value of measured weight. Apart from containing data value a characteristic may contain one or more descriptor. The descriptor is like a metadata which can tell type of value or any other configuration information, in the weight measurement example, a descriptor can tell the unit of weight whether it is on Kgs or pounds or any other.
So all of the above was about Internet of things & Bluetooth Low Energy. Now we will see about a very unique device that comes under the category of pair Broadcaster-Receiver of BLE paradigm. And that device is Beacon, or in our context, we can call it Bluetooth Beacon.
In general language, beacon is something which broadcasts some kind of signals and any other object who is seeking for such signals can read these signals & use accordingly. The best example is a lighthouse which emits the light so the ships in the sea can see the lights & get the idea about our their path.
Bluetooth beacon is quite the same, as this concept. It’s a device that transmits signals which allow another device to determine its proximity to the device. It continuously emits their identifier data using BLE to their environment.
Here are some examples of beacons created by various manufacturers.
Becaon from Estimote.
Beacon from Radius Beacons.
Beacon from Kontakt.io
For interacting with these, you will have to follow some protocols. There are different types of protocols available.
The first one is iBeacon; iBeacon is from Apple. It’s an Apple’s technology standard, which allows compatible devices to listen for signals in a physically established region. This physical region is created by various beacons.
Most of the time people get confused with term iBeacon & they think it’s a hardware device. But no, it’s a standard from Apple while the Beacon is actually a hardware device which broadcasts signals.
iBeacon, officially supports only iOS devices. But there are ways you can use it for Android as well.
The next type comes from the Google; Eddystone.
Eddystone is a new open format for BLE beacons to communicate with compatible devices. It is an alternative to Apple’s iBeacon. Eddystone has official support for both iOS & Android.
There are other standards like one is AltBeacon standard & others are closed proprietary systems.
These standards specify the format of a data packet that is transmitted through beacons. Let’s start with the iBeacon.
iBeacon’s advertising data packet’s length is 31B that can be divided into various parts. The following image can elaborate more.
iBeacon Prefix: This contains the hex data. It gives packet defining information, company’s ID (Apple’s here), secondary ID that denotes a proximity beacon & length of data.
The remaining 4 parts gives the most important information.
UUID(Universal Unique Identifier): Used to identify a large set of beacons. Example – B432ACEB-2362-7121-B550-AF2186EFF7C9
Major: By this number you can identify a subset of beacons from the large set. Example- 3481
Minor: By this number you can identify an individual beacon. Example – 3B46
Tx Power: Transmission power, helps to calculate the proximity from a beacon. Actually, this is the value of signal strength at one meter from a device.
For better understanding, we can take an example. Let’s say there are two companies which have installed beacons at their offices. Both companies will have different UUID value for their beacons so you can identify company on the basis of UUID. Next, the company has different departments in it, say one is technical department & another administration department. So each department will have different Major value, that can tell you which department it is.
Now, if you have a beacon for each member in particular department then by knowing the minor value of the beacon you can identify that member within the department.
Unlike the iBeacon, Eddystone supports three kinds of frames. A frame is basically a type of data that a beacon can send out.
The prefix data contains the information same as the iBeacon’s structure, but the difference is known by the types of frames.
Eddystone-UID: It has two parts.
i. Namespace: It is same as iBeacon’s UUID. Differentiates a large group of beacons.
Example- EDD1EBEAC04E5DEFA017
(ii). Instance: Does the same job as Major & Minor in iBeacon.
Example- 0BDB87539B67
2. Eddystone-URL:
This is a unique part of Eddystone. By using this frame, a beacon can transmit a URL data.
The best part of this type is that you don’t need any specific app for reading beacon who transmits URL data. Just need a physical web browser that can sense this kind of data signals & can open that URL in your physical web browser. You can know more about physical web here: https://google.github.io/physical-web/
3. Eddystone-TLM: This type of data is broadcasted along with other 2 types UID & URL. This data packet consists small information like battery status, the temperature of beacon & such others.
The other pair is an interesting one. The best thing about this pair is, you don’t need to set a connection. The broadcaster is a device which simply broadcasts the data packet unaware of any other devices. And the Receiver receives the data transmitted from the broadcaster.
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