iBeacon was initially introduced by Apple in September 2013. The technology uses low cost (starts at $5) and low power Bluetooth Smart devices that broadcast data to smartphones to trigger actions in a mobile application.
The system was initially used for retail but has evolved into much more than that (entertainment, transport, etc.), to the point where market research firm ABI Research forecasts shipments in excess of 400 million by 2020. A whole industry was born from the beacon idea with hundreds of hardware and software company focussing on the technology and related application fields.
In 2015 Google replied to Apple with a similar beacon standard called Eddystone. Eddystone was already more sophisticated than iBeacon, offering the opportunity to trigger a mobile browser instead of an app and to broadcast a data packet with richer functionalities such as the transport of additional sensor information.
By design, the Apple iBeacon advertisement frame is plainly visible, which can be a problem. First it can be replicated which open ways to spoofing. Second because it can be used by competing third parties. A retailer you could potentially trigger its own app when it is nearby a beacon in the shop of one of its competitors.
Encrypted beacon data
To secure beacons, Google last week introduced Ephemeral IDs (EID), a beacon frame in the Eddystone format that gives developers more power to control who can make use of the beacon signal.
Eddystone-EID enables a new set of use cases where it is important for users to be able to exchange information securely and privately. Since the beacon frame changes periodically, the signal is only useful to clients with access to a resolution service that maps the beacon’s current identifier to stable data. In other words, the signal is only recognizable to a controlled set of users.
Eddystone-EID works with Android but also with iOS.
When Google takes the lead
When launched last year Eddystone had been immediately embraced by a number of hardware beacon vendors.
Now EID is supported at launch by more than 15 companies, including some of the most well know beacon vendors: Gimbal, Estimote, Radius Networks, Sensoro to name just these.
In addition to beacon manufacturers, Google has been working with a range of innovative companies to demonstrate Eddystone-EID in a variety of different scenarios.
As an example, the leading luggage brand Samsonite and Spanish beacon manufacturer Accent Systems are developing a suitcase with Eddystone-EID where users can securely keep track of their personal luggage.