From Conception to Retirement: A Lifetime Story of a 3-Year-Old Wireless Beacon System in the Wild

Yi Ding, Ling Liu, Yu Yang, Yunhuai Liu, Desheng Zhang, Tian He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We report a 3-year city-wide study of an operational indoor sensing system based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) called aBeacon (short for alibaba Beacon). aBeacon is pilot-studied, A/B tested, deployed, and operated in Shanghai, China to infer the indoor status of Alibaba couriers, e.g., arrival and departure at the merchants participating in the Alibaba Local Services platform. In its full operation stage (2018/01-2020/04), aBeacon consists of customized BLE devices at 12,109 merchants, interacting with 109,378 couriers to infer their status to assist the scheduling of 64 million delivery orders for 7.3 million customers with a total amount of $\$ $ 600 million order values. Although in an academic setting, using BLE devices to detect arrival and departure looks straightforward, it is non-trivial to design, build, deploy, and operate aBeacon from its conception to its retirement at city scale in a metric-based approach by considering the tradeoffs between various practical factors (e.g., cost and performance) during long-term system evolution. We report our study in two phases, i.e., an 8-month pilot study and a 28-month deployment and operation in the wild. We focus on an in-depth reporting on the five lessons learned and provide their implications in other systems with long-term operation and broad geospatial coverage, e.g., Edge Computing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-61
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Bluetooth
  • Senor network
  • beacon
  • instant delivery
  • mobile computing


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