Fraunhofer unveils 12.5Gbps LiFi for Industrial IoT

The Fraunhofer Institute has announced a new light-based wireless networking technology that can achieve 12.5Gbps in throughput, aimed at serving industrial applications. The system, centered around the GigaDock, could provide the pipe that powers increasingly data-rich machinery and services, as manufacturers look to boost efficiency.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsytems (IPMS), to give it its full name, has announced the creation of an optical line-of-sight (LoS) module that can provide 12.5Gbps of communications bandwidth. Aimed at industrial applications, Franhofer notes that the system is around ten times faster than WiFi, and also benefits from a number of security benefits inherent in its physical properties.

To grossly oversimplify the technology, wireless communication is a bit like using a radio wave to send Morse code. When the wave reaches the bottom of its cycle, you can read that as a zero, and when it reaches the peak, that’s a one. You can listen to a specific RF frequency, pay attention to the wave, and then assemble the ones and zeroes sent to decipher the message.

LiFi, light-based WiFi, is essentially an incredibly fast version of Morse code that is sent using visible light rather than radio waves. The LED lights that might be illuminating the room in which you are currently reading this are cycling through an on/off state continuously, much quicker than the eye can see. LiFi technology, like the kind developed by pureLiFi, essentially use the LED to blink in a certain sequence, in order to encode data into the on/off pattern that is being monitored by a reading devices.

Again, we would like to apologize to all the RF and optical engineers that we rather likely offended in the above paragraphs, but LiFi does sound a little like witchcraft to the uninitiated. Thanks to its physical (sort of) medium, LiFi can provide a more secure communication protocol assuming you can prevent physical access to a room or environment.

Currently, Fraunhofer says the range of the GigaDock is less than 10cms, and arranged in a point-to-point configuration. Other LiFi systems can achieve much longer ranges, but not the same level of throughput. The GigaDock does support both unidirectional and bi-directional communication, as well as full-duplex.

A factory using an extensive WiFi system will have to ensure that its communications are properly protected, so that it doesn’t leak sensitive information to the outside world – those with packet sniffers lurking outside security fences or another floor of a building. If you can keep the light inside a room, then in theory, it is a very secure form of communication.

For industrial applications, the LiFi technology can be used to replace aging Ethernet or BUS-based wired technologies, or simply used to augment an existing deployment. That 12.5Gbps of bandwidth would be capable of transmitting very rich data streams housing real-time analytical read-outs from industrial machinery that is steadily integrating more and more sensors.

The data that these sensors generate can be used to provide services, either from the manufacturer of the systems installer. Being able to monitor an assembly and spot where emergency maintenance needs to be carried out to prevent costly repair bills and production outages is something that can be sold as a service, and in partnership with many stakeholders in the value-chain. For the end customer, the sensor data should translate into a combination of lower costs, less downtime, and increased efficiency.

While light-based systems tend to suffer from shorter ranges than their RF brethren, the lack of RF interference and regulation can provide major benefits to deployments that can run into such barriers. Military and healthcare applications have shown interest in the tech, for the LiFi industry as a whole, these are very early days in terms of adoption.

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