Key Fob Simulation

TI Key Fob Simulator

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Key Fob Image Screen Shot
TI Key Fob  
Simulator Screen Shot

iOS Key Fob Simulator

The iOS Key Fob Simulator simulates the key fob peripheral that comes with the CC2540 Mini Development Kit from Texas Instruments. The simulator enables an iPhone to masquerade as a key fob peripheral providing accelerometer data, key press notifications, battery level data, a dual tone immediate alert and transmit power data. Master devices (Centrals) which can connect to a key fob peripheral should also be able to discover and connect to the simulator without any modifications.

The simulator requires the hosting iOS device to support Bluetooth 4.0. iPhone models beginning with the 4S and 3rd generation iPads are capable of hosting the simulator.

The services and characteristics of the simulator are described below. The simulator fails the Turing test compared to an actual key fob in specific use cases which are documented.  However, the simulator does enable some test cases that are not possible using the key fob hardware. The simulator is a complementary tool for developers working with the CC2540 Mini Development Kit.

Quick Start

After launching the simulator, slide the Advertising Switch depicted on the screen shot to the ON position. Discover and connect to the simulator using any Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Device Scanner.  See references at the bottom of the page for BLE device scanners.

Left Key Functionality
The key fob hardware uses the left and right keys to change the internal state of the key fob.  For example pressing the right key on the key fob initiates advertising for a 30 second interval.  The simulator provides a much more visible ON/OFF switch to control advertising and does not mimic the hardware behavior of the right key.

The left key behavior does carry over to the simulator.  Left key presses toggle the value of the Transmit Power between 0 dBm and -6 dBm as described in the Tx Power Service description. The left key also provides the user a manual override to quiet an active Immediate Alert.

Published Services and Characteristics

The hardware version of the key fob exposes nine services:
Generic Access Service (0x1800)
Generic Attribute Service (0x1801)
Immediate Alert Service (0x1802)
Link Loss Service (0x1803)
Tx Power Level Service (0x1804)
Device Information Service (0x180A)
Battery Service (0x180F)
Accelerometer Service (0xFFA0)
Simple Keys Service (0xFFE0)

The first seven services are Registered GATT Services  with the Bluetooth SIG  while the Accelerometer and Simple Keys services are custom service implementations by TI and do not conform to any standard profile specification.  TI used 16 bit UUIDS for the custom services rather than assigning 128 bit UUIDs per the Bluetooth 4.0 specification.

The simulator exposes only seven of the listed key fob services. The Link Loss Service is not implemented in the simulator because  the iOS Core Bluetooth Framework does not currently (iOS SDK: iOS 6.1) provide a mechanism for a slave device to determine when a connection to a master device is terminated.  There are also defects in the Core Framework which prevent implementing the Generic Access Service in the simulator to match the prescribed behavior of the Generic Access Service implemented by the hardware version of the key fob.  These issues will be highlighted in the discussions which follow.

Generic Access Service (0x1800)

The Generic Access Service is a mandatory GATT service which all peripherals must implement. The five service characteristics are each Read only with only two of the characteristics (Device Name and Appearance) required to be implemented to be compliant with the GATT specification.

Generic Access Service Characteristics
Device Name (0x2A00)
Appearance (0x2A01)
Peripheral Privacy Flag (0x2A02)
Reconnection Address (0x2A03)
Preferred Connection Parameters (0x2A04)

The key fob hardware  implements each of these characteristics with zero values returned for Appearance, Privacy Flag, and the Reconnection Address.  The Preferred Connection Parameters characteristic returns a value of 0x5000A0000000E803.

The iOS Core Bluetooth Framework appears to have a defect associated with reading the Device Name characteristic associated with the Generic Access Service.  An error indicating the Device Name is unreadable is always returned when this characteristic is read. The error is returned on every peripheral device I have tested including peripheral implementations developed using Apple's CBPeripheralManager class in which the framework provides the Generic Access Service and corresponding Device Name characteristic automatically.

As  noted, when a peripheral/slave is implemented using the Core Bluetooth Framework, and specifically the CBPeripheralManager Class, the Generic Access Service is automatically created and exposed by the framework itself.  The Appearance Characteristic value provided by the framework corresponds to "Generic Phone" which corresponds to the hosting platform.

At this point I have not researched whether the characteristic values provided by the iOS Core Bluetooth Framework can be modified by the application before communicating to the Master/Central client.

Generic Attribute Service (0x1801)

The Generic Attribute Service is a mandatory GATT service which is comprised of a single control-point characteristic which can not be read but only indicated (notification + response confirmation).

       Generic Attribute Service Characteristic
              Service Changed (0x2A05)

The key fob hardware provides the required characteristic definition. I did not experiment with subscribing for indications for the Service Changed characteristic as it was not germane to the key fob functionality.

In a manner similar to the Generic Access Service, the Core Bluetooth Framework automatically provides and publishes the Generic Attribute Service for peripheral applications using the CBPeripheralManager Class.  The Service Changed characteristic is provided and available for indication subscription.

Immediate Alert Service (0x1802)

The Immediate Alert Service is a registered GATT service and exposes a single characteristic:

   Alert Service Characteristic
Alert Level  (0x2A06) 

Alert Level is defined to be a "Write Without Response" characteristic meaning that the Master device should be able to write a value to the Alert Level characteristic specifying that no return response from the peripheral is desired.  Three alert level values can be written to the Alert Level Characteristic:

Alert Level Values
No Alert
Mild Alert
High Alert

Writing a "No Alert" value quiets the key fob while the "Mild Alert" and "High Alert" values result in two distinct tones to be sounded for 10 seconds on the key fob. A low frequency tone is associated with "Mild Alert" with a higher frequency tone played for a "High Alert".  In both cases, the tones are accompanied by a blinking LED indicator.

The user can manually quiet the key fob when an alert is occurring by pressing the left key on the fob.

Immediate Alert Service Simulator Implementation Issues
The specification also requires that the alert be turned off if the physical connection to the key fob is terminated. The simulator can not detect a terminated physical connection and therefore can not turn off an active alert when a connection is terminated. An active alert will turn off after 10 seconds or by manually turning off the alert using the left key on the fob.

A defect in the Core Bluetooth Framework prevents "Write Without Response" type writes to be delivered to the peripheral.   The work-around requires the Master device to Write to the characteristic and request a confirmational response indicating that the write occurred (or failed).  This of course, violates the Bluetooth Specification for the Immediate Alert Service.

Link Loss Service (0x1803)

As noted in the introductory section above, the simulator can not implement the Link Loss Service because the iOS Core Bluetooth Framework does not provide a mechanism for detecting a terminated  or dropped connection between the peripheral and its connected client.

Tx Power Level Service (0x1804)

The Power Level Service is also a registered GATT service and exposes a single Read Only characteristic:

           Tx Power Service Characteristic
Tx Power Level (0x2A07)

The Tx Power Level characteristic returns the transmit power of the key fob in dBm. The key fob peripheral transmits at either the 0 dBm level or at the -6 dBm level. The user can chose the transmit level by pressing the left key on the fob. Left key presses on the fob toggle between the two transmit levels.

The simulator behavior mirrors the key fob hardware behavior in that the Tx Power Level characteristic returns either 0 dBm or -6 dBm. The simulator also enables the user to select the transmit power level reported by the characteristic by toggling the left key in the same manner as the hardware key fob.  The simulator is not capable of adjusting the actual transmit power of the iOS device, the simulator simply models the behavior of the Tx Power Level characteristic.

Device Information Service (0x180A)

The GAT registered Device Information Service provides manufacturer or vendor information about a device. Though the key fob hardware exposes this service the data values the service provides are simply placeholders for the corresponding characteristics.  Each of the characteristics defined by the Device Information Service are Read only and none are required to be implemented since each characteristic is considered optional.

Device Information Service Characteristics

Manufacturer Name String (0x2A29)

Model Number String (0x2A24)

Serial Number String (0x2A25)

Hardware Revision String (0x2A27)

Firmware Revision String (0x2A26)

Software Revision String (0x2A28)

System ID (0x2A23)

Regulatory Certification Data List (0x2A2A)

PnP ID (0x2A50)

The key fob hardware implements each of these characteristics but simply echoes the  characteristic name for the string attributes without providing any real data.  Examples:

Manufacturer Name
"Manufacturer Name"

Mode Number
"Model Number"

Serial Number
"Serial Number"


The key fob hardware does provide data for the non-string type characteristics.

The simulator provides a high fidelity simulation for the Device Information Service as illustrated in the screen snapshots captured from a BLE client connected to both the hardware Key Fob and the simulated key fob:

              keyfob hardware device service
          Key Fob Hardware Device Information Service

      simulator device service
          Key Fob Simulator Device Information Service
The data is identical except the Simulator uses all uppercase for the character strings simply to distinguish the output if needed.

Battery Service (0x180F)

The GATT registered Battery Service exposes a single characteristic which returns the percentage of remaining battery life. A fully charged battery returns 100 while a completely discharged battery returns 0.

       Battery Service Characteristic
     Battery Level (0x2A19)

The characteristic can be read as required by the Bluetooth SIG and can also be subscribed to as TI implemented the optional notification support in the key fob hardware.

The simulator also supports both reading and notification subscription to obtain the battery level.  The battery level is set with the slider control shown on the screen shot. As the slider control is moved by the user the updated value of the slider is immediately pushed to subscribers of the Battery Level characteristic. Otherwise, the battery level will be returned to the client when the characteristic is read.

The simulator's ability to change the battery level on demand provides an easy testing mechanism for device scanners wanting to test receiving updates for a characteristic value that typically changes very infrequently.

Accelerometer Service (0xFFA0)

The Accelerometer Service is a custom service defined by TI which provides accelerometer control (enable/disable) and accelerometer data for a tri-axial accelerometer that is embedded in the key fob.  The Accelerometer Service exposes four characteristics:

Accelerometer Service Characteristics
Accelerometer Enable
Accelerometer Dynamic Range
Accelerometer X Axis Data
Accelerometer Y Axis Data
Accelerometer Z Axis Data

The Accelerometer Enable characteristic is a Read+Write characteristic. A non zero value written to the characteristic enables the accelerometer which then begins generating data. A zero value written to the accelerometer turns the accelerometer off.  The simulator models this same behavior.

The Dynamic Range characteristic is a Read only characteristic which returns an encoded value representing the dynamic range of the accelerometer.  The firmware version of the key fob hardware that I have loaded in the fob does not allow changing the dynamic range of the accelerometer and is set to 2G's corresponding to +/- 1G.  TI encodes the dynamic range value using the decimal integer value of 20 to represent a 2G dynamic range. The firmware is capable of representing an 8G dynamic range by returning a decimal integer value of 80.  The simulator always returns a decimal integer value of 20 for this characteristic.

Accelerometer X-Y-Z characteristics can be read or subscribed to for notification.  Each axis must be independently read or subscribed.  Accelerometer data is scaled to 8 bits for each axis and does not appear to be preprocessed or filtered.

The simulator models the key fob accelerometer service by also providing 3 distinct characteristics corresponding to each accelerometer axis.  Additionally, an accelerometer characteristic only provided by the simulator is exposed:

       Additional Simulator Only Accelerometer Characteristic
Tri-Axial Accelerometer Data   (0xFFAA)

The Tri-Axial Accelerometer Data packages all three accelerometer components in the same transmission packet.  This enables three value to be sent in one atomic packet and eliminates the inter-packet delay required between packets for individual component transmissions.  The inter-packet delay is still required between distinct samples of the accelerometer, but eliminates inserting the delay when sending X, then Y, then Z in succession.

The simulator updates clients with accelerometer data at a rate of 15 Hz.

Simple Keys Service (0xFFE0)

The Simple Key Service is another custom service defined by TI which enables the remote monitoring of the two keys that are found on the key fob.  A single characteristic is exposed by the service which supports subscriptions for notifications of the state changes associated with the keys:

Key Press Service Characteristic
Key Press State  (0xFFE1)

The Key Press State encodes four values. A value of 0x00 indicates that neither key is pressed.  A value of 0x01 indicates that the left key is pressed. A value of 0x02 indicates the right key is pressed. The final value, 0x03 indicates that both keys are pressed.

The simulator uses two button controls for the user to press which reside to the left and right of the image of the body of the key fob. When a button is pressed, the corresponding red LED indicator representing the key on the body of the fob illuminates with a yellow light.

Advertising Functionality

The key fob hardware advertises three primary services along with a local name, RSSI and a device UUID as depicted in the captured screen shot from a BLE scanner :

key fob advertisement
      Key Fob Hardware Advertisement

The actual broadcasted advertisement data is listed in the bottom section of the display. The key fob peripheral advertises three primary services corresponding to the Immediate Alert Service, Transmit Power Service, and Link Loss Service in addition to the local name "Keyfobdemo".  The choice TI made to advertise these three services in the limited advertising space available probably coincides with the key fob's conformance to the GATT defined Proximity Profile. The Proximity Profile relies on the implementation of these three services.

The simulator advertises a different set of services due to the inability to implement Link Loss. The TI defined custom Accelerometer and Key Press services make up the advertised services for the simulator as shown here:

simulator advertising
        Simulator Advertising Data

Background Operation

I wanted to explore running the Key Fob Simulator in the background. Running the simulator in the background should be feasible though not practical given that advertising is only controllable via a manual switch presented on the UI. The app shouldn't be switched to the background and left there while continuously advertising.

I did expect background execution to work but found what appears to be another defect in the Core Bluetooth Framework.

Background operation is enabled by adding a "Required background mode" entry into the simulator's application property list (KeyFobSimulation-Info.plist). The raw value to assign to the background mode key is "bluetooth-peripheral" which enables the simulator to share data using Corebluetooth when running in the background.  The user will be queried at run time as to whether to permit background communication and the device's privacy settings will be changed accordingly.

However, the expected behavior was not realized.  After enabling background execution, the simulator stopped working correctly when run in the foreground. Simply enabling the background mode resulted in the simulator not transmitting all of the services it publishes when a connecting client issues a command to discover the peripheral's services. After a BLE client discovers the simulator and connects, the list of services that client receives after issuing a discover services command is limited to three or four services that the simulator actually exposes.  The variability as to whether three or four of the nine exposed services seems indeterministic but does indicate a possible timing issue on the peripheral.

The list of advertised services is not effected by enabling the background mode.

The issue apparently correlates to the number of services the peripheral exposes. If the peripheral only exposes a single service in addition to GAP & GATT, the single service is discoverable by the BLE client.

If the simulator is actually moved to the background the issue remains.

This background mode  behavior is evident in every BLE client tested leading to the hypothesis that the issue resides on the peripheral/slave side of the connection.

Simply disabling the background mode restores the simulator's correct behavior.

A defect was logged with Apple.

Summary of Issues

The iOS Key Fob Simulator falls short of being a high fidelity simulator in three areas:

   1)  Link Loss - inability to detect a terminated connection by the simulator.
    2) Generic Access Service Device Name Error - iOS Framework error prevents the    reading the Device Name. The Apple defect ID number is 13362139.

    3) Write Without Response Error - aside from not being able to implement Link Loss, the Write Without Response Error described in the Immediate Alert Service is the most severe issue uncovered in the Core Bluetooth Framework.  iOS peripherals will simply fail to update writable characteristics that clients have written using Write Without Response write commands.  This defect must be fixed by Apple before a legitimate product offering can be made using an iOS based Bluetooth 4.0 peripheral. The Apple  defect number is 13361937.

    4) Peripheral Fails to Transmit Exposed Services When Background Mode Is Enabled - only a subset of services are discoverable when  "bluetooth-peripheral" background mode is enabled.  Simply enabling the background mode results in  incorrect operation of the simulator  when running in the foreground.  The Apple defect number is 13445414.

Bluetooth Low Energy Scanners

    Available in the App Store:

          LightBlue - a Bluetooth Low Energy Device Scanner

          TI BLE MultiTool - a nice scanner which includes graphical data for characteristics

          TechBasic - a BASIC environment for iOS devices enabling BASIC programs to be written and executed on iOS platforms without needing xCode or a developer's license.

        BLE Scanner - Source Code For BLE Scanner on Git Hub