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'Li-Fi' could replace Wi-Fi as university spin-out looks to transmit data through LED light bulbs

A new spin-out from the University of Edinburgh has embarked on pioneering R&D to throw light on an alternative to wireless radio data communication.

VLC Ltd (Visible Light Communications) is to launch the first prototype ‘Li-Fi’ technology application which will see LED light carry optical wireless communication streams, as an alternative to conventional Wi-Fi, using VLC’s IP technology SIM-OFDM and optical spatial modulation.

This allows LED light to modulate at a rate so fast as to be imperceptible to the human eye, but which can be picked up by receivers such as suitably configured smart-phone cameras at speeds of hundreds of megabits per second, enabling the light source to transmit data.

Although the idea of transmitting data via the visible light spectrum is not new, the development of super high-speed transmission using off-the-shelf LED light bulbs initially came from research carried out by Professor Harald Haas, Professor of Mobile Communications,School of Engineering/Institute of Digital Communications, University of Edinburgh. 

His research created the technology that can transfer vast quantities of information across a spectrum 10,000 times wider than the radio frequency spectrum.

Dr Gordon Povey, CEO of VLC, has overseen the recent company spin-out, working in partnership with Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), the university’s research and commercialisation office. He believes the company is on the cusp of a quantum leap forward in transforming data communication, which may eventually lead to a migration away from our dependence on radio communication.

He said;

“Our research has shown that using LED light as the carrier, we can achieve data rate speeds well in excess of current Wi-Fi configurations.

One of the key issues is with data capacity – at the rate we currently adopt wireless data, we will ultimately run out of radio spectrum as we cope with the long term demand of wireless data transmissions and the trillions of bytes of data communicated every month.

"Turning a light source – a simple household LED bulb for example - into a localised data communications centre is a potentially viable alternative. Where we have an LED light source configured with VLC’s own IP, we have a powerful method of carrying data, not just in a single data stream, but thousands of data streams in parallel at high speed. 

Moreover, it can be used in intrinsically safe environments - petrochemical plants, hospitals, aircraft, etc where the use of radio frequency Wi-Fi can have restrictions. Our research has shown that the long term potential for Li-Fi over Wi-Fi is one which cannot be ignored.”

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