Research Spotlight Archive
Title: Using Overhead Lights for Wireless Communications Promises to Substantially Increase the Capacity of Existing Wireless Networks
Participants: Michael Rahaim (PhD ’13) and Professor Thomas Little (ECE)
Funding: National Science Foundation (NSF), NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center
Background: Existing radio frequency communications such as WiFi can become congested especially when many use a common wireless access point. By using the optical medium for data transport, this bottleneck can be eased by using increasing numbers of overhead lights as access points in the new medium. The result is the best of both worlds: the use of existing WiFi with the addition of data capacity in unused communications spectrum. Moreover, the light-based optical channels have directional characteristic – light as data communication can be directed to receivers and this nature enables positioning of optical access points in very close proximity without significant interference .
Future mobile devices will exploit these multiple data channels by adapting to the best channel available, radio frequency or optical, as these systems are complementary.
Description: Optical communications using the visible spectrum can significantly enhance the capacity of indoor wireless networks and can be piggybacked onto energy-efficient LED lighting. By integrating optical techniques with existing radio frequency services, it is possible to scale the performance of these systems with growing demand from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. These benefits are enhanced by additional attributes of security and privacy derived from the inherent characteristics of light.
Results: Researchers from Boston University and the Smart Lighting Engineering Center (ERC) have demonstrated the capacity for LED lighting to provide data access networks that are complementary to existing wireless systems and can greatly enhance the capacity of future wireless networks.
Publications:  M. Rahaim, A.M. Vegni, and T.D.C. Little, “A Hybrid Radio Frequency and Broadcast Visible Light Communication System,” Proceedings of IEEE Globecom 2011, 2nd Workshop on Optical Wireless Communications (OWC 2011), Houston, Texas, U.S.A., pp. 818-822, December 5-9, 2011.