Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) are to present a light-fidelity (LiFi) hotspot as a prototype for optical wireless communication for distances up to 10 metres, and at speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second, at the 2017 Optical Fibre Communication (OFC) trade fair, which is taking place in Los Angeles from 21 to 23 March.
The LiFi technology developed by the Fraunhofer team not only offers a greater level of security against hackers than WiFi, but allows several users to operate in the same spot, which up until now has been a limitation of LiFi networks.
An increasing number of companies are looking to expand, or completely replace, wired local area networks (LANs) with wireless data networks, which are considerably more cost effective and flexible than connecting computers with cables.
Currently available wireless (WiFi) solutions, however, cannot meet all expectations. Susceptible to interference, wireless data transmission is less stable and slower when compared to cabled solutions, particularly in situations where transmission speed is impacted because multiple users must share a common radio cell. More importantly, WiFi networks are vulnerable with even encrypted networks being relatively simple for experts to crack. Hackers can, for example, spy on passwords and login information from wireless transmission packets. In cases of damage, companies are solely responsible for their own WiFi network and must bear the corresponding costs.
The optical wireless communication developed at Fraunhofer IPMS uses infrared light as a wireless transmission medium. ‘While physical obstacles such as thick walls only weaken radio signal performance allowing attackers to gain sensitive company data via a receiver within range of the radio signal, our LiFi network provides security against hacking attacks even in closed rooms,’ explained Fraunhofer development leader Dr Alexander Noack.
The new technology also overcomes a widespread weak spot in LiFi networks, Noack added: ‘Until now, it was not possible for several users to operate in the same spot due to inter-module interferences within the same link. Our technology now allows for point-to-multi-point communication. We can, for example, integrate meeting rooms into a corporate network to provide multiple notebooks simultaneous access.’
Not only is the Fraunhofer IPMS communications technology safer than radio transmission techniques, it also needs only 15 per cent of the energy required by conventional wireless technologies per transmitted user data byte and is up to 10 times faster thanks to a data rate of 1 Gigabit per second at insignificant bit error rates (<10-9). It is therefore particularly suitable for all areas of application in which large amounts of data must be transmitted practically in real time.
At OFC, Fraunhofer IPMS will also present its ‘GigaDock’ technology for smaller distances. With bandwidths of up to 12.5 Gigabits per second, the real-time technology aims to supplement or replace stationary cable connections in highly automated production environments. The driverless send and receive module combines an optical transceiver and a protocol controller with a Gigabit-Ethernet interface, making for easy integration into company networks.