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What about Beacons and the Physical Web?

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help you understand and participate in the Physical Web. If you can't wait, you may want to download our free eBook, "Navigating the Physical Web" for the entire story.

The Physical Web is the natural extension of the Internet into our everyday interactions with the world around us. It won't be long before you can walk up to just about anything and get more information about it with a quick tap on your smartphone. So how does this seeming magic work?


It all starts with Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth is a wireless communications standard that allows devices to talk to each other over a short distances. We are talking less than 50 yards here, so it's close proximity. Bluetooth has been around since 1989, but it's only recently that beacons using this technology have come on the scene.

For the trivia buffs amongst us, because it united various communications protocols into a single standard, it was named after tenth century King Harald Bluetooth who united the Danish tribes. And in case you wondered, the logo is a combination of Harald's initials using Scandinavian runes.


A beacon is a small device that transmits a Bluetooth signal containing a URL with content specifically designed for people within range. Beacons use Bluetooth lowenergy (BLE) technology to broadcast a one-way signal. Bluetooth enabled devices within range like smartphones can receive the signal from a beacon. There are two protocols used on beacons: iBeacon and Eddystone. As we will discover, the real benefit from the Physical Web comes mainly from the use of Eddystone technology.

iBeacon technology was introduced by Apple in 2013 and requires you to download an app to use it. For example, if Joe's Fish Market has iBeacons, you have to download Joe's app to see them. As you walk around Joe's, the iBeacons reach out and notify you of their presence. This is called "Push" technology because the beacon is pushing the content to you and your phone notifies you whether you want it to or not. If you go to Sandy's Fish Market and they have iBeacons, you will have to download Sandy's app to see their beacons and get their content.

Eddystone is an open beacon format that was introduced by Google in 2015. The name comes from the Eddystone lighthouse in England. The term "open" means it is offered to the world without strings or cost attached and can be implemented without restriction. The specification includes several tools, but the one we will focus on is the Eddystone-URL, which is the backbone of the Physical Web. Unlike iBeacons, which push notifications to your phone, Eddystone is more of a "pull" technology, meaning you ask for the content if you want it. Typically, you will swipe down on your phone or open a Physical Web app to ask your phone if there are any beacons around you. You won't be bothered with unwanted notifications as you walk around. Another benefit is that you only have to download a single app and you can see every beacon in the world that uses the technology.

Proximity Based Content

By using beacons to share content, the Physical Web gives people location specific information via their mobile phones. Anyone within a close proximity of a beacon can get the content. It might be a coupon, a video, a song, a document or anything else a location wants to share. The guy next to you might even be carrying a beacon that broadcasts his digital business card. When you see the Physical Web symbol you know to take a look because there is likely some helpful content nearby that is specifically designed for you at that place, at that time.

If you're ready to get involved in the Phisical Web either as a user or a provider of physical web information, contact PHY111.COM for more information or call us at 877.397.7605.

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