Like moths to a flame, a variety of aviation stakeholders are gravitating towards LiFi — which uses light rather than radio to wirelessly transmit data — for various use cases, including to potentially augment or even replace traditional onboard Wi-Fi.
Astronics Corporation and French firm Latécoère were among the first firms to explore Li-Fi (light fidelity) applications for aviation using LED cabin lights. And the latter company saw traction last year when Airbus Corporate Jets agreed to use Latécoère’s LiFi technology to create the ‘ACJ Smart LiFi Monitor’ a plug and play offering that boasts a smart 4K monitor with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LiFi connectivity. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based private aviation services provider Alpha Star Aviation subsequently signed on as a customer for the solution for three ACJ corporate jets.
More recently, Fife, Washington-headquartered Spectrum Networks has thrown its hat into the ring with a LiFi offering that exploits laser light in a bid to “flood” business jet cabins with multi-Gigabit per second throughput rates. Notably, the same lights can also provide Far-UVC sanitization of cockpit and cabin surfaces.
Spectrum Networks founder and CTO Alex King explains to Runway Girl Network:
We can design custom drop-in replacements to the existing lighting system to not only give off a very high-quality light (superior to LED), but to also provide ultra-high-speed connectivity and sanitization capabilities as well. So, basically, accomplishing multiple functions through those same lights, thereby eliminating the need for excessive wiring weight and infrastructure, and making a truly wireless cabin a reality.
LiFi is considered a ‘green technology’ and sustainability is a very important part for us. So, our solutions could be incorporated into just about any type light including ceiling, table, read, galley, lav, flight deck, and wash.
While Spectrum Networks says its solutions are capable of providing high-quality laser lighting together with ultra-high-speed connectivity and 222nm Far-UVC Sanitization, none of these functions are mutually exclusive.
“So, for example, if a principal was interested in ultra-high-speed LiFi connectivity, but not interested in sanitization, no problem. Each capability and/or function can be delivered standalone,” notes King.
One of the main differences between Spectrum’s technology and other cabin LiFi products is that Spectrum does not use LED-based lamps. The firm has strategically aligned itself with Kyocera SLD Laser, whose LaserLight technology delivers high luminance white light from a small point source.
“To date, all existing LiFi solutions have been LED-based, which is where our solution stands out,” explains King. “LED-based light sources can’t modulate as fast as laser-based light sources which means LED-based systems are just slower. Slower light sources require almost perfect alignment to maintain decent data rates and the throughput in indirect light drops to a level which can lead to poor user experiences. Ultimately, I believe this is what has slowed LiFi’s inevitable adoption into mainstream consumer electronics. Enter laser-based light sources, whose capabilities are almost limitless.”
In addition to supporting multi-Gbps speeds, he adds, Spectrum’s brand of onboard LiFi is not limited by line of sight issues, or slow connection speeds. “And it can finally take center stage and alleviate the burden on Wi-Fi with so many devices now being ‘smart’ and overwhelming wireless networks. Additionally, LiFi is designed completely using all 802 standard protocols. In fact, the only difference between Wi-Fi and LiFi is the physical layer or medium by which it’s transmitted (RF for Wi-Fi, and light for LiFi). So special encryptions, etc. designed to work with Wi-Fi are completely compatible with LiFi. In fact, the two can even coexist, maximizing the benefits of both technologies.”
MRO specialist Duncan Aviation is the strategic partner that has guided Spectrum’s design, development, and installation efforts. “They will absolutely play a critical role in the integration and certification (STCs) for the aircraft they service. However, just as our products are system agnostic and can work with any system or platform, ultimately a successful integration is our goal and we will work with all MROs to ensure that happens,” says King.
And while private aviation is his firm’s anticipated launch point, Spectrum reckons that IFE onboard commercial aircraft will ultimately evolve to include LiFi connectivity. King suggests that the wheels of change are already in motion, pointing to Delta Flight Products‘ wireless embedded IFE system — now flying on a number of aircraft types in Delta’s fleet — as helping to break the mold of traditional, wired systems.
“One could easily see how the benefits and security of LiFi could support this trend, supporting uncompressed HD, High Resolution Dolby Atmos audio, 4K, and even 8K content wirelessly to installed monitors,” he says.
Rivals in the space share a similar view, if perhaps a different approach. Back in 2018, for example, Astronics suggested that Li-Fi could eventually enable passengers to download an HD video in just a few seconds. A year later, management explained the firm’s vision for using Li-Fi to rapidly change content every time an aircraft arrives at the gate.
PDT, an Astronics business, is still touting LiFi for aero, particularly for when consumer technology catches up with the vision. “In the future, wireless networks and devices such as smartphones will be able to communicate over a combination of LiFi, Wi-Fi, and cellular technologies, selecting whichever is most appropriate at the time,” it says.
As for Spectrum Networks, the firm is not only eyeing civil aviation, but other transportation verticals. “In addition, we’re absolutely interested in pursing adjacent markets even beyond aviation. The fact is these solutions are extremely applicable to numerous industries,” says King.
- Far-UVC for occupied cabins attracts interiors stakeholders
- Astronics eyes disruptive use cases for Li-Fi in aviation and PaxEx
- Latécoère picks Signify, Huneed as hardware partners for lifi work
- Latécoère details plan to replace rather than complement inflight wifi
- Delta flight Products expands IFE platform to be totally Delta-sourced
- Press Release: ACJ announces launch customer for new LiFi monitor
- Press Release: ACJ teams up with Latécoère on LiFi monitor
Featured image credited to istock.com/izusek