DISA Forecast to Industry

With Li-Fi, a headlight could provide a network connection

Imagine a network connection simply by standing under the right light.

Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn, the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, highlighted the technology known as Li-Fi, or Light Fidelity, as an alternative to wireless network connections during the agency’s annual industry day Nov. 6.

[Click here to download the 2018 DISA Vision and Contract Guide]

In one scenario, LEDs would blink so fast that the flashes would be imperceptible to the naked eye. But those flashes would actually transmit ones and zeros. In other words, network connections would arrive via light as an alternative to Wi-Fi.

[DISA eyeing Wi-Fi killer]

DISA officials said earlier this month they are interested in a demonstration of the technology.

“Li-Fi technology has the potential of being faster than any radio-based technology existing at present,” Dr. Bill Butler, project lead for the DISA Li-Fi University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) Project, said in a DISA release.

“With Wi-Fi, all devices are fighting for the same 800 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth. With Li-Fi, the entire visible and non-visible light spectrum is available for use — laying the groundwork for 10 gigabits-per-second [Gbps] transmission rates within the next calendar year.”

DISA officials have been discussing the applications for Li-Fi for months.

“It’s very high-speed bandwidth, very simple in terms of building out the network through the infrastructure that’s available,” Rear Adm. Nancy Norton, DISA’s vice director, told a small group of reporters in September.

“The ability to start and stop the network all is just based on breaking the light signal. You’ve got a light bulb, you’ve got a receiver, you put your hand in between and all connections stop. You remove your hand and they start again. So the ability to rapidly control who has access to a network in what would normally be a difficult-to-manage RF spectrum is really a significant deal.”

Lynn noted at the industry day that Li-Fi is attractive from a military perspective because, unlike Wi-Fi, it does not emit widely. Nor can it go through walls. It also relies on existing infrastructure. This can provide an advantage to ships at sea, he said, because it can enable non-detectable communications that cannot be identified through current direction-finding technology.

“[There’s potential] for both tactical and garrison applications, “ Norton said. “The ability for the services to use it at the tactical level will depend on someone piloting this to the point where we can build confidence and show the potential for it. Then we’ll have tactical users that will be banging on the door saying, ‘We need this.’”

In a release, Butler said Li-Fi could be used for vehicle-to-vehicle communications through headlights or taillights without interference. “The data is secure because information is only transmitted to those in the line of direct sight,” he said. “It can also replace the complex cabling required in forward-deployed command centers by combining the network access points in the overhead lighting. This reduces power consumption and simplifies command center setups.”

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