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


Yi Ding, Alibaba Group, University of Minnesota; Ling Liu, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Yu Yang, Rutgers University; Yunhuai Liu, Peking University; Desheng Zhang, Rutgers University; Tian He, Alibaba Group, University of Minnesota


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 USD 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 a long-term system evolution. We report our study in two phases, i.e., an 8-month iterative 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 large geospatial coverage, e.g., Edge Computing.

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@inproceedings {262019,
author = {Yi Ding and Ling Liu and Yu Yang and Yunhuai Liu and Desheng Zhang and Tian He},
title = {From Conception to Retirement: a Lifetime Story of a {3-Year-Old} Wireless Beacon System in the Wild},
booktitle = {18th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-21-2},
pages = {859--872},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = apr

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