Pathway to 5G: Visible Light Communications

We know from the CISCO report that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of mobile data usage per month is around 80%. At the same time the network spectrum efficiency of state-of-the-art cellular systems exhibits a saturating trend. Given that the available radio frequency spectrum is limited and that it is unlikely that significant new spectrum is made available for mobile communications, the only option is to increase the spectrum efficiency of wireless systems. This requires radical new research in wireless networks, and keys to solving the issues, in my opinion, are (a) the elimination of interference, (b) a massively improved reuse of the available frequency resources, and (c) utilisation of the free, vast and unlicensed infrared and visible light spectrum leading to hybrid radio frequency (RF) and optical wireless systems. All three points are inter-linked. For example, an indoor wireless link can hugely benefit from high signal-to-noise ratio stemming from an illuminated room instead of forcing an outdoor radio base station to send the radio frequency signal through multiple walls. This would either mean low signal-to-noise-ratio for the indoor user, or high transmit powers for the outdoor radio base station, or both. Wouldn’t it be better for the radio base station to serve an outdoor user or a user in a fast moving vehicle? This has four effects: (a) interference between the indoor user and the outdoor user is entirely avoided, (b) since interference is avoided, the radio base station can transmit with reduced power resulting in ‘greener’ mobile networks, (c) scarce wireless transmission resources are used in the best possible and most efficient way and (d) the radio frequency system enjoys a healthy spectrum relief resulting in improved user satisfaction. In summary, I believe that Li-Fi should be an integral element of a 5G cellular standard!

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