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Wireless-data LED lamps to replace lightbulbs - US profs

'The era of hyperconnectivity is upon us'

The US government is funding research into using LED lighting as data network access points. Room or street lamps would link with devices using visible light, carrying data beyond over existing power lines.

"This is a unique opportunity to create a transcendent technology that not only enables energy-efficient lighting, but also creates the next generation of secure wireless communications," said Prof Thomas Little of Boston Uni.

"As we switch from incandescent and compact florescent lighting to LEDs in the coming years, we can simultaneously build a faster and more secure communications infrastructure at a modest cost along with new and unexpected applications."

The initiative is known as the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Centre, and will be carried forward at Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of New Mexico. The US National Science Foundation is providing $18.5m in funding.

Little and his colleagues envisage affordable devices which would replace existing lamps and light fittings, usually requiring only the already-present power lines for backhaul. Devices equipped with visible-light ports not unlike IrDA kit would have a data connection whenever such a lamp was in line of sight.

The data would be transmitted by the same LEDs which provided white-light illumination, flickering like tremendously fast signal lamps. The data flicker would be imperceptible to humans.

As visible light doesn't penetrate walls or travel round corners, the developers say that the system would be more secure than present-day WiFi, and would avoid the problem of multiple radio networks competing for bandwidth. Furthermore, the much higher frequency of visible light compared to radio waves would mean there was much more wireless bandwidth to use.

Meanwhile, the lighting function of the LED access devices would also save useful amounts of power for users, being much more efficient than existing filament or even fluorescent bulbs and tubes. The Smart Lighting advocates reckon that their kit could become truly ubiquitous, present in almost every place there is a light today - on cars and in streets as well as inside buildings.

"The era of hyperconnectivity is upon us," commented Inder Monga, network-research chief at Nortel.

"This visible light-based networking ... with its energy efficient qualities, privacy and its ubiquitous nature is very exciting."

There's more on Smart Lighting courtesy of Boston U here. ®

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