Li-Fi, free-space optics are shining the light on wireless

Tammy Parker, FierceWirelessTechIt can be easy to forget that "wireless" does not always refer to radio communications, though that is the most widely considered connotation. But wireless can also refer to light-based communications, which some envision as the savior of their increasingly congested RF brethren.

Different flavors of light-based communications have been around for years, but the overall concept appears to be picking up steam due to the skyrocketing congestion in radio frequencies. Throw in the ability to deploy light-based communications technology with no licensing requirements, robust security and impressive performance--when signals are not blocked--and you have the makings of an attractive complement to RF networks.

An article in this week's FierceWirelessTech takes a look at pureVLC, one of the pioneers in visible light communication (VLC). Also known as Li-Fi, this technology relies upon light in the 400 THz (780 nm) to 800 THz (375 nm) range. A related technology is free-space optics (FSO), which uses light in the infrared spectrum.

FSO is the more established of the two. San Diego-based LightPointe has long been manufacturing FSO laser bridges for point-to-point wireless connectivity. Other players in the FSO market, according to MarketsandMarkets, include Ubiquiti Networks, fSONA Networks, Northern Hi-Tec, Wireless Excellence and the Society for Optical Communications Systems.

While military and aerospace applications, as well as some enterprise uses, dominate the current FSO market, MarketsandMarkets predicts the technology will soon extend to metropolitan area networks (MANs), service acceleration and last-mile connectivity. Li-Fi, meanwhile, looks to initially have data-transmission applications in verticals but is also being eyed for indoor positioning and as a complement to capacity-constrained Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Though the timelines on some of the envisioned applications are fuzzy, Li-Fi and FSO are fueling the imaginations of engineers seeking new and better broadband solutions. And aside from the direct benefits that light-based communications have to offer, these technologies offer the side benefit of reminding everyone that wireless really just denotes "no wires," and that opens the door to a universe of possibilities.--Tammy