CEA-LETI: Smartphone Support Crucial to Li-Fi Adoption

Li-Fi, a technology that transmits large quantities of data using blinking LED light signals undetectable to the human eye, was considered a substitute for the radio frequency based Wi-Fi transmission during the technology’s early development stages. Yet, the technology’s applications has gradually evolved since it was created by Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, in 2010.

Patrick Mottier, Lighting Business Development Manager, CEA-Leti, spoke to LEDinside about some of the technology’s new applications, and the French semiconductor and optoelectronics expert’s new Li-Fi partnership with French Li-Fi manufacturer Luciom announced in September.

The new bidirectional transceivers to be developed by CEA-Leti and Luciom are designed to work with different types of LED light sources. The two companies are trying to develop solutions independent from the light sources, and have chosen LED luminaires that are already available on the market for the solution, said Mottier. “The LEDs inside the luminaires are phosphor converted white LED,” he added. Mottier, however, declined to comment on whether the companies would consider forming partnerships with other LED manufacturers for light source applications.

Patrick Mottier, Lighting Business Development Manager, CEA-Leti. (Photo Credit: CEA-Leti)

Many Li-Fi applications remain constricted to laboratory settings to achieve optimal transmission rates of 10 megabyte per second (mbps) or above. The reason is that LiFi transmission implies a compromise between bandwidth, distance and directionality, Mottier said, adding that maintaining high bandwidth transmission is plausible over a long distance, but the direction of data transfer will be one-sided. Only researchers at Fraunhofer Henrich Hertz Institute (HHI) in Germany have been able to crank up data transmission rates to 3 gigabytes per second (Gbps) using conventional LED bulbs in a laboratory setting, Mottier said.

Asked if Li-Fi devices are being secured to ensure data transmitted will be safe from malicious hackers, Mottier said: “At this stage of preliminary development, it seems that no specific attention has been given yet to the protection of privacy.” One reason Li-Fi’s vulnerability to data exploitation has not been explored might be because light signals are more difficult to hack then conventional Wi-Fi, according to a E&T magazine report published in July.

Regardless if the technology is hack-proof, retailers have used it in location positioning in shops, department stores, and for advertisement targeting as coupons. “For low-rate data transfer, it seems that the technology could quickly mature and already, many services have been imagined based on it,” Mottier said.

Yet widespread Li-Fi applications will take a bit more time. Mottier identified the emergence of smartphones with Li-Fi functionality as one of the keys to the  adoption of the technology. “In an intermediate stage, the Li-Fi functionality could be brought to the smartphone by external dongles through the jack for earphones,” Mottier said. “The high-data-rate applications need more development for costs to become reasonable, so it will take a few years more.” Several Li-Fi manufacturers including Luciom and Mexican Software company Sisoft are exploring using Li-Fi to transfer high-definition video. The latter company has also experimented with transferring audio data.

Moving beyond indoor applications, including retail, hospitals and even airplanes, outdoor Li-Fi applications are growing fast. For instance, Intel has been developing vehicle communication using visible light communication (VLC) systems to make cars safer. “Many car manufacturers, outdoor lighting manufacturers, or bus stop manufacturers are aware of the emergence of the LiFi technology for indoor applications,” said Mottier. Services where numerical data can be exchanged between vehicles and road infrastructure, bus stops and broadcast bus time tables, or public buildings information systems could all emerge in the near future. “The natural localization of LiFi transmission could be fully adapted to these kinds of situations,” said Mottier.

(Author: Judy Lin, Chief Editor, LEDinside//Editor: Matthew Fulco, Senior Editor, LEDinside)

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