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By Beth Bacheldor

Estimote Announces Proximity Beacons With Programmable NFC Functionality

Estimote, a developer of beacons that employ Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)—also known as Bluetooth Smart—technology, has announced an updated version of its Proximity Beacon with programmable Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality. The beacons integrate the latest nRF52 BLE chip from Nordic Semiconductor, a fabless semiconductor company specializing in ultra-low-power (ULP) short-range wireless communication. To make use of the nRF52's on-chip NFC tag, Estimote has also added an NFC antenna.

Estimote beacons and stickers are tiny proximity computers that contain an ARM processor and memory, and utilize Bluetooth Smart technology to transmit unique ID numbers that trigger actions on smartphones or other BLE-enabled devices. Powered by coin batteries, they can be strategically placed virtually anywhere within a building or on the outside grounds. Through the tiny radio signals broadcasted by the beacons, smart devices within range can receive those signals, and compatible installed apps can then respond.

According to Estimote, the updated beacons feature programmable NFC RFID functionality and are 30 percent more energy-efficient, allowing improved responsiveness without compromising battery life. The default battery life is still more than two years, the company notes, but customers can now prioritize the beacon's lifetime over improved responsiveness and thus enable it last for as long as seven years. According to the company, the new firmware, announced alongside Estimote's new Location Beacons in February, adds optimized power consumption, faster and more secure configuration and firmware update process, and connectionless sensor and battery data via the Estimote Telemetry packet.

NFC technology has enabled Estimote to implement a tap-to-configure feature, simplifying beacon deployments and testing, the company reports, and also opens up a host of new possibilities for businesses looking to utilize proximity and microlocation, ranging from payments to loyalty. With the fully programmable NFC functionality, Estimote explains, customers can set up as many NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF) records as they'd like—up to 256 bytes in total, all through Estimote's secure configuration application programming interface (API). Using Estimote's fleet-management API, customers can reconfigure the records remotely.

With Android's current built-in NFC support, Estimote says, the new beacons also open up another channel for app distribution. The NFC memory can be programmed with an Android app's unique identifier, and then, when a user touches a smartphone to that beacon, the app page will open in the Google Play Store. Once Instant Apps is available in the next version of Android, Estimote reports, it could run an app without installation. In addition, the company indicates, because the Estimote Android app already supports Proximity Beacon's NFC functionality, identifying and configuring beacons simply requires a tap with a smartphone, and the Estimote app will automatically open and connect to it.

A developer's kit featuring three new Proximity Beacons will cost $59, with shipping expected to begin later this month.

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