- b : a radio transmitter emitting signals to guide aircraft
A beacon is an intentionally conspicuous device designed to attract attention to a specific location.
Beacons can also be combined with semaphoric or other indicators to provide important information, such as the status of an airport, by the colour and rotational pattern of its airport beacon, or of pending weather as indicated on a weather beacon mounted at the top of a tall building or similar site. When used in such fashion, beacons can be considered a form of optical telegraphy.
Beacons help guide navigators to their destinations. Types of navigational beacons include radar reflectors, radio beacon, sonic and visual signals. Visual beacons range from small, single-pile structures to large lighthouses or light stations and can be located on land or on water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called daybeacons.
Beaconing is the process that allows a network to self-repair network problems. The stations on the network notify the other stations on the ring when they are not receiving the transmissions. Beaconing is used in Token ring and FDDI networks.
Classically, beacons were fires lit at well-known locations on hills or high places, used either as lighthouses for navigation at sea, or for signalling over land that enemy troops were approaching, in order to alert defenses. As signals, beacons are an ancient form of optical telegraphy, and were part of a relay league.
Systems of this kind have existed for centuries over much of the world. In Scandinavia many hill forts were part of beacon networks to warn against invading pillagers. In Wales, the Brecon Beacons were named for beacons used to warn of approaching English raiders. In England, the most famous examples are the beacons used in Elizabethan England to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada. Many hills in England were named Beacon Hill after such beacons. In the Scottish borders country, a system of beacon fires were at one time established to warn of incursions by the English. Hume and Eggerstone castles and Soltra Edge were part of this network. The Great Wall of China is also a beacon network.