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Boston University Explores Wireless Communication Based on Visible Light

One possible future wireless technology is interesting not because of its potential for lighting control, but its potential to use visible white light as a communication medium for control of computers, phones and appliances.


In October 2008, Boston University’s College of Engineering announced that it had received a National Science Foundation grant to develop wireless communication technology based on visible light instead of radio waves.

The researchers expect to piggyback data communications capabilities on white LEDs to create “Smart Lighting” that is expected to be faster and more secure than today’s network technology. The LED lighting would provide Internet connections to computers, PDAs, TV and radio reception, telephone connections and thermostat temperature control.

The ability to cycle LEDs ON and OFF at a very high frequency is key to the technology. Flickering light in patterns enables data transmission without a noticeable change in room lighting. A wireless device within sight of an enabled LED could send and receive data through the air initially at speeds in the 1-10 megabit per second (Mbps) range with each LED serving as an access point to the network.

Such a network would have the potential to offer users greater bandwidth than current RF technology, although they will have to get the data rates up to take the technology where they want it to go. This will likely take some years.

For more information, visit Boston University’s Smart Lighting project here.


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