‘Li-Fi’ offers secure alternative for wireless company networks

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Fibre-optics without wires is becoming reality. At OFC 2017, the Dresden Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) will demonstrate a prototype Li-Fi communications module that uses infrared light to transmit data over company networks.

Originally envisaged as light bulbs that could also act as wireless routers, Li-Fi technology can deliver signals over distances of up to 10m and at speeds of one gigabit per second or more.

The Fraunhofer IPMS team was able to eliminate a weak spot in Li-Fi technology, as Fraunhofer development leader Dr. Alexander Noack explains: “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 simultaneous access for multiple notebooks.”

The point-to multi-point-capable optical technology appears to offer the best of both worlds: the speed, stability and security of wired infrastructures with the flexibility and cost advantages provided by wireless radio solutions. Integrating wireless access points into existing network structure is considerably more cost effective than connecting computers with cables.

With network security becoming an ever more pressing issue, Li-Fi is an attractive option because signals cannot be physically accessed from outside the room. In contrast, WiFi networks are vulnerable; 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.

Dr Noack explains: “Our solution uses light in the infrared range 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 Li-Fi network provides security against hacking attacks even in closed rooms.”

Furthermore, the Fraunhofer IPMS technology needs only 15 per cent of the energy required by conventional wireless technologies per transmitted user data byte and offers gigabit speeds at reasonable cost. It is therefore particularly suitable for all areas of application in which large amounts of data must be transmitted practically in real time.

Fraunhofer IPMS will present its prototype Li-Fi HotSpot for distances up to 10m at booth #3730 during OFC 2017. The driverless send and receive module combines an optical transceiver and a protocol controller with a Gigabit Ethernet interface, making it easy to integrate into company networks.

The company will also present its so-called GigaDock technology for smaller distances and even faster bandwidths of up to 12.5Gb/s, designed to supplement or replace cabled connections in highly automated production environments.

Li-Fi HotSpot and Li-Fi GigaDock are available as customer evaluation kits.

Photo © Fraunhofer IPMS

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