04 December 2014

The most basic use of beacon technology is to determine how far a mobile device is from a beacon, but as anybody who has played with beacon ranging knows, these distance estimates can have a significant degree of uncertainty. For a beacon that is 5 meters away, distance estimates might fluctuate between 2 meters and 10 meters.

The reasons for these distance estimate variations and the steps that can be taken to reduce them are some of the most frequent questions we get about beacons. Factors that influence the error in the estimate include reflections of the radio signal, obstructions that attenuate the radio signal, and orientation of both the phone and the beacon.

By far the biggest factor affecting error in distance estimates is radio noise. Background radio noise exists everywhere (it’s what causes the static seen on an old analog TV). For strong radio signals (a high signal-to-noise ratio), noise is far less of an issue than with weak signals (a low signal to noise ratio). For this reason, a device that is within a few meters of a beacon can provide much more accurate distance estimates than a device that is 10 meters or more away.

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