A new ITU standard for high-speed indoor ‘visible light communication’ (VLC), also known as ‘LiFi’, will establish the foundations for the growth of the VLC market.
LED and infrared are capable of transmitting data at rates high enough to support bandwidth-intensive services such as video streaming, interactive gaming and advanced virtual reality (VR) applications. VLC is also expected to assist in unlocking the potentially multi-billion dollar indoor-positioning market by achieving positioning accuracy superior to that achieved by WiFi.
“Security, no interference and spectrum saving are very attractive features of VLC,” says Marcos Martinez, MaxLinear, Associate Rapporteur for ITU’s standardization work on ‘broadband in-premises networking’ (Q18/15).
“VLC is a valuable complement to WiFi,” says Martinez. “VLC and WiFi have different strengths, and VLC’s strengths provide a strong complement where WiFi faces challenges.”
Light cannot travel through walls, a feature highly relevant to security.
“Imagine an industrial setting making use of collaborative robots connected by WiFi,” says Martinez. “Placing a big transmitter outside the factory walls would be enough to disrupt the production line.”
VLC can also assist in saving radiofrequency spectrum.
“Crowded spectrum is creating real problems in the deployment of WiFi and VLC can alleviate some of those problems,” says Martinez. “The spectrum is limitless and we have the additional benefit of no collisions with other communications thanks to VLC remaining within the boundaries of the walls.”
VLC represents a meeting of many companies and two quite different industries, the connectivity industry and the lighting industry.
With lighting companies like General Electric, Philips Lighting and Osram expressing interest in LiFi technology, VLC standards are expected to be implemented by manufacturers of products such as mobile devices, PCs, VR goggles and VLC dongles.
VLC standards could also offer valuable support to the Internet of Things, a landscape composed of a very diverse set of solution providers
“Standards are really the only way for these different worlds to speak to one another and collaborate successfully in stimulating the growth of the VLC market,” says Martinez. “We have seen a variety of proprietary VLC solutions, but without standards it has been impossible to create an ecosystem.”
The new ITU standard is the first to enable very high-speed VLC.
“This market-making ITU standard is already considered a ‘de facto’ standard,” says Martinez. “We are seeing vendors of proprietary VLC solutions moving towards this ITU standard – it is already being implemented, even before final approval.”
The new standard, ITU G.9991, details the system architecture, physical layer and data link layer specification for ‘high-speed indoor VLC transceivers’, the VLC access points within lightbulbs.
ITU G.9991 will join ITU’s series of standards for home networks connecting in-premises devices and interfacing with the outside world.
Being part of this family of standards will accelerate the development of standards-based VLC solutions, highlights Martinez. “The hardware is already there. Implementers can re-use the hardware created for the ITU G.hn series of home networking standards.”
ITU G.9991 has achieved first-stage approval (‘consent’) and is now in the final phase of its development cycle.
In this final phase, equipment vendors are developing prototype VLC solutions and feeding their findings back into ITU-T Study Group 15 as a collaborative effort to refine the standard’s specifications en route to its final approval.
“New VLC products compliant with this ITU standard will enter the market very fast, at much the same time as the standard is approved,” says Martinez.
The international standards developed by ITU-T Study Group 15 (Transport, access and home) detail technical specifications giving shape to global communication infrastructure. The group’s standards define technologies and architectures of optical transport networks enabling long-haul global information exchange; access networks through which subscribers connect; and home networks connecting in-premises devices and interfacing with the outside world.
Learn more about ITU-T Study Group 15 in an ITU interview with the group’s Chairman, Stephen Trowbridge.