C-band 5G macro RAN deployments are causing a slackening in 5G small-cell rollouts, but EE Times sources expect the small-cell market will grow in size and scope from then on.
The U.S. military is fueling the early growth of Light Fidelity (LiFi), a high-speed broadband mechanism that uses the light spectrum to transmit and receive data. Two companies involved with this technology, pureLiFi and Signify, have secured major contracts with the Army and Navy to enhance current communications systems with an additional layer of security.
At the same time, companies in the LiFi market are expressing mass-market penetration goals.
LiFi was first invented in 2011 by Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Edinburgh. The Visible Light Communication (VLC) technology transmits data via an LED light to a receiver that can be installed in hotspots, laptops, or smartphones. A transmitter then sends signals back to the LED light using infrared.
LiFi can transmit data at speeds up to 220Gbps, far faster than the 9.6Gbps maximum data rate of WiFi 6. LiFi, however, only has a range of 10 meters compared to the 30 meters covered by WiFi. Also, LiFi’s light beams cannot pass through walls.
Despite these drawbacks, LiFi holds great promise for military users. The fast and secure LED-based networks can be rolled out in specific areas and are not at risk of being hacked by commonplace RF tools.
“We announced two multi-million-dollar contracts with the U.S. Army, who uses this technology not only to validate its security, but to look at other aspects, such as ease of use, ease of deployment, and reliability,” pureLiFi CEO Alistair Banham told EE Times. LiFi inventor Haas is also a co-founder of the company.
In May, Signify, another major LiFi player, similarly announced that the U.S. Marines and Navy are set to use its products to secure Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs).
“Signify’s Trulifi solution offers military organizations a way to extend and enhance their current communications systems, with an essential, additional layer of security,” Mark Gunther, global segment leader of public and transportation at Signify, told EE Times.
That means that personnel can’t be jammed, intercepted, or tracked outside of the area of the infrared light cone, he added.
A mass-market future?
“Defense is often a place where new technologies start,” Banham said. “But we’re working with global consumer brands, enterprise brands, manufacturing companies who are seriously evaluating our technology for their specific use cases. Our focus is clearly to take our components for integration into connected devices to the mass market.”
The company demonstrated its first LiFi system intended for consumer use at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, in February. The demo consisted of an augmented reality (AR) headset, smart TV, downlighter and smartphone all connected by LiFi.
“Our focus within pureLiFi is the indoors,” Banham said. “I call it the last three meters.” He added that the company has demonstrated LiFi outdoors in California and Singapore, but its focus remains on indoor devices.
The company contends that the technology does work in direct sunlight. The firm said it had tested its receivers outdoors under 77,000 Lux of sunlight.
LiFi’s virtual reality future
Home is where the heart is for consumer LiFi.
“We believe that LiFi is going to be the solution for providing high-speed, low-latency connectivity for the ever-increasing number of AR/VR devices, including smart glasses,” said Signify’s Gunther. He explained that these light and compact consumer devices will need to handle real-time computations at multi-gigabits per second—which makes LiFi the perfect candidate for such applications, he added.
“The amount of data that is being consumed indoors is going up significantly,” Banham said. “Meta’s Zuckerberg says he’s looking for the industry to come up with solutions to help enable his metaverse, which is all about massive bandwidth, massive data and pipes to enable all these low-latency, low-jitter and high-bandwidth devices.”
Banham sees LiFi as part of that virtual reality future.
He also expressed excitement about LiFi being standardized by the IEEE as 802.11bb. “My vision is in a couple of years, this will become part of the world that we live in,” he said. “It’s being supported by this whole 802.11 standardization, which will help enable and drive interoperability faster.”
Banham said that the global supply chain shortage brought on by the Covid pandemic has been a “nightmare”, but that the company has been shipping its products to the U.S. Army with “only one or two headaches.”
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Dan Jones is a veteran reporter who has covered many segments of the communications market.
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