Beacons (also known as distress beacons) are a source of income, essentially providing similar rewards as farming. Additionally, there's a chance another, better beacon will be dropped as part of container's dropped by NPC's. Beacons are the only way to procure special equipment from Nia's elite forces.

Beacons are deployed on the terrain, from where they'll have to be activated by a specific number (this information can be found in their description) of agents in a squad. Shortly after activation, the beacon will spawn several waves of NPC's. The last wave often consists of stronger NPC's.

commando = rank 5 mech, mech ewar, heavy mech
platoon = rank 4 mech, mech ewar, heavy mech
patrol = rank 3 mech, mech ewar, heavy mech

squad = rank 5 light, light ewar, assault
strike force = rank 4 light, light ewar, assault
fireteam = rank 3 light, light ewar, assault

section = rank 5 mech, heavy mech
brigade = rank 4 mech, heavy mech
cultivator = rank 3 mech, heavy mech

excavator = rank 5 light, assault
revealer = rang 4 light, assault
searcher = rank 3 light, assault

vanguard major = mech ewar, heavy mech
praetorian specialist = assault
alchemist = heavy mech