Dutch regulator sees promise in LiFi

Wednesday 7 February 2018 | 17:20 CET | News
Broadband via light could become an important alternative to Wi-Fi, Dutch regulator Agentschap Telecom believes. Under the collective name Optical wireless communication, the chip industry is working on ways to send data via special LED lamps (Visible Light Communication, also known as LiFi). LiFi uses visible light from LED lamps for the downstream communication channel and infrared for upstream. There are already commercial products that deliver up to 50 Mpbs per access point. The LED lamps can be used anywhere. Receiver numbers are still few but there are special dongles that can be used for a laptop or PC. 

The other option is infrared. For this, special antennas send a directed bundle to a suitable receiver. In the laboratory, speeds can be achieved that are up to a thousand times more than Wi-Fi, but there are no commercial applications yet.

Research from AT, TU/e and Stratix

Agentschap Telecom (AT), the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and Stratix have made an overview of the technology in a report published by the regulator in order to contribute to the development of the technology, and its standardization. The Dutch regulator will also bring the report to the attention of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) where the subject is on the agenda.

That demand for gigabit speed will increase in the coming years, is widely expected. The question is whether Wi-Fi can deliver enough goods, so to speak, considering that only the (already overloaded) 2.4 GHz band and 5.0 GHz band are available. Capacity is therefore limited, even with the much faster and upcoming 11ax system. There is also Wi-Fi in the 60 GHz band, but that is still little applied. This technology, WiGig, also has the disadvantage that 60 GHz frequencies are blocked by water molecules, so even by a human hand. Light has very different qualities, it can also reach its destination through reflection.

Recommendation: broadband through the ceiling 

The researchers also made a number of recommendations for the Netherlands. Combining data transport and supplying power for optical wireless access points is becoming more and more interesting. Practical tests can now be set up with systems for good indoor communication, the regulator said. AT wants builders have to take future demand for equipment into account when building new offices and homes.

It would be a realistic application to create a ceiling armature with LED lamps and a dual task: light and broadband. An ethernet cable would be handy here; in most cases it would be also suitable for supplying electricity for the lamps. In addition, there is plastic optical fibre (POF). This 'plastic fiberglass' is so flexible that it can be pulled together with massive copper wires.

In offices with a suspended ceiling, this could be done fairly easily, but in homes, all (power) wires are concealed in pipes and boxes in the wall and ceilings. Constructors would have to take this into account.

The Dutch government last changed the Building Decree for broadband. In short, this means that the meter cupboard in new homes has to be suitable for the placement of routers and modems. There are also builders who already provide smart home systems. This involves additional work options for new buildings.

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