News (from Edinburgh Research and Innovation)

New university spin-out gets funding to develop WiFi through LED light bulbs

  • 15 February 2012

A new spin-out from the University of Edinburgh has secured initial seed funding from a leading investment syndicate to develop the first prototype ‘Li-Fi’ technology application using LED light as an alternative to wireless radio data communication.

A new spin-out from the University of Edinburgh has secured initial seed funding from a leading investment syndicate as it embarks on pioneering research and development, which throws light on an alternative to wireless radio data communication.

pureVLC Ltd, based at the University’s Technology Transfer Centre at Kings Buildings, has raised £180,000 through the Par Equity Syndicate and private investment. The initial funding has been earmarked to launch the first prototype ‘Li-Fi’ technology application, which will see LED light carry optical wireless communication streams, as an alternative to ‘conventional’ Wi-Fi using pureVLC’s technology, called SIM-OFDM and optical spatial modulation.

This allows LED light to modulate at a rate so fast as to be imperceptible to the human eye, but which can be picked up by receivers such as suitably configured smart-phone cameras at speeds of hundreds of megabits per second, enabling the light source to transmit data.

Although the idea of transmitting data via the visible light spectrum is not new, the development of super high-speed transmission using off-the-shelf LED light bulbs initially came from research carried out by Harald Haas, Professor of Mobile Communications in the University's Institute of Digital Communications (IDCOM).

His research created the technology that can transfer vast quantities of information across a spectrum 10,000 times wider than the radio frequency spectrum. 

Dr Gordon Povey, CEO of pureVLC, has overseen the recent company spin-out, working in partnership with Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), the university’s research and commercialisation office. He believes the company is on the cusp of a quantum leap forward in transforming data communication which may eventually lead to a migration away from our dependence on radio communication.

He commented; “Our research has shown that using LED light as the carrier, we can achieve data rate speeds well in excess of current Wi-Fi configurations. One of the key issues is with data capacity – at the rate we currently adopt wireless data, we will ultimately run out of radio spectrum as we cope with the long term demand of wireless data transmissions and the trillions of bytes of data communicated every month.

Turning a light source – a simple household LED bulb for example - into a localised data communications centre is a potential viable alternative. Where we have an LED light source configured with pureVLC’s own IP, we have a powerful method of carrying data, not just in a single data stream, but thousands of data streams in parallel at high speed. Moreover, it can be used in intrinsically safe environments - petrochemical plants, hospitals, aircraft, etc where the use of radio frequency Wi-Fi can have restrictions. Our research has shown that the long term potential for Li-Fi over Wi-Fi is one which cannot be ignored."

This significant potential was spotted by an 11-strong syndicate of investors at Edinburgh-based Par Equity LLP as Partner, Paul Munn explains: “This is an early stage technology and what intrigued us is the plethora of opportunities which really makes this technology exciting. pureVLC has identified a future need where an alternative to shrinking bandwidth quotas can be addressed. We had an enormous surge of interest from our local investor base in this technology and it has a sound ‘fit’ with our focus on highly innovative, disruptive businesses with huge global potential.  pureVLC clearly sits in this space with a technology that addresses a fundamental issue and that has a number of possible commercialisation opportunities.”

Ian Murphy, Head of Licensing at Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), commented; “There are limitless possibilities for the scale of uptake for this technology and again it underlines the world-class spin-out and collaborative research work for which the University of Edinburgh is renowned. An initial round of funding is in place and as the company furthers its research and development phase, I’m confident that the surge of interest in this young company will exceed all expectations.”


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