Visible light communication is an enabling technology to satisfy bandwidth requirements for indoor optical communications, expand wireless access, and maintain download speeds in the connected environment.

As the demand for mobile wireless services continues to grow, and the deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies expands, visible light communication (VLC) is emerging as a potential broadband transmission technology that will offer a virtually unlimited spectrum for high-quality wireless services. The Center for Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications (LESA)—an Engineering Research Center (ERC) funded by the National Science Foundation and headquartered at Rensselaer—recently achieved the world’s first high-speed visible-light transmission link with a fully integrated microchip receiver.

These first-of-a-kind integrated results advance the use of the unregulated visible spectrum in high-speed wireless systems. VLC has the potential to add significant value to existing lighting infrastructure, enabling cost-effective, high-bandwidth, wireless, lighting-enabled communications. As soon as LEDs replace conventional lighting, VLC can be employed in a wide variety of industrial, commercial, and residential applications.

The low-cost, compact integrated microchip receiver developed at the LESA ERC will enable development of more advanced technology that can be used for applications such as imaging, indoor GPS, occupancy tracking, self-alignment, and the hand-over required for mobile wireless scenarios.

According to researchers at LESA, in conjunction with RF wireless technologies, VLC is a promising candidate for inclusion in future 5G communications platforms. It also opens the path to new applications in outdoor applications, such as building-to-building, streetlight-to-streetlight, vehicle-to-vehicle, and industrial communications where current wifi networking can suffer from interference issues. Higher frequency radio-frequency platforms (60 GHz and mm wave) have characteristics very similar to light-based communications (e.g., line of sight, limited ability to penetrate certain materials), making VLC-based platforms a contender for advanced high bandwidth wireless communications.