Overhead Lights Can Boost Capacity of Wireless Networks

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Boston University researchers with the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications ERC (LESA) have shown that light emitting diodes (LEDs) can complement local wireless data networks to send and receive information. LESA is a National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) and is headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Impact/benefits: 

This advance means that local wireless data networks (such as Wi-Fi installations) will be able to handle more traffic with less delay and interference, since they will be assisted by rapidly pulsing LEDs overhead. In addition, the characteristics of data communication by light enhance the security and privacy of transmitted data.

Explanation/Background: 

Wireless access points (such as Wi-Fi routers) operate within certain radio frequency bands to transmit data. As more users attempt to use the same access point simultaneuously, the designated frequencies become congested and devices can become unresponsive. With an ever-growing number of mobile, data-enabled electronic devices being used in the home, in the workplace, and in public spaces, the spectrum assigned to such gadgets becomes more and more crowded.

Visual Light Communication (VLC) technology uses light to transmit data. The Smart Lighting researchers developed a way to integrate VLC with the existing data network so that the two complemented each other. Through overhead LED lights, high-speed data could be received by user devices, such as laptop computers or cell phones. The light-based data stream can be pointed at users, significantly cutting down on interference.  Future devices will be able to exploit the best method on the fly, be it radio frequency or optical (light).