This paper presents a measurement-based analysis of the Received Signal Strength (RSS) of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals, under Line-of-Sight (LOS) and Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) scenarios, performed in tandem at two universities in Tampere, Finland, and Bucharest, Romania. We adopted the same hardware and methodology for measurements in both places, and paid particular attention to the impact of RSS on various environmental factors, such as LOS and NLOS scenarios and interference in 2.4 GHz band. In addition, we considered the receiver orientation and the different frequencies of BLE advertising channels. We show that snapshot RSS measurements typically have high variability, not easily explainable by classical path-loss models. A snapshot recording is defined here as one continuous recording at fixed device locations in a static setup. Our observations also show that aggregated RSS data (i.e., considering several snapshot measurements together) is more informative from a statistical point of view and more in agreement with current theoretical path-loss models than snapshot measurements. However, in BLE applications such as contact tracing and proximity detection, the receivers typically have access only to snapshot measurements (e.g., taken over a short duration of 10–20 minutes or less), so the accuracy of contact-tracing and proximity detection can be highly affected by RSS instabilities. In addition to presenting the measurement-based BLE RSS analysis in a comprehensive and well-documented format, our paper also emphasizes open challenges when BLE RSS is used for contact tracing, ranging, and positioning applications.
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