Have you ever wondered why the French Li-Fi company Oledcomm bears this name, when its activity has nothing to do with OLEDs?
The answer: “Oledcomm” means “optical LED communication”. The “oled” in the moniker has nothing to do with organic light-emitting diodes.
And now “optical communications” defines the Parisian company’s business more than ever, as Oledcomm has quietly exited the lighting business.
In an extensive interview with LED magazineco-CEOs Benjamin Azoulay and newly appointed Pierre-Jean Beylier revealed that instead of using visible LED light from lamps and fixtures to transmit data, they are now focusing entirely on using infrared , informally called “invisible light”.
In a commensurate market shift, Oledcomm is now focusing its growth strategy on selling Li-Fi to industries such as defence, aerospace and commercial airlines which it believes will benefit from data transmission over infrared methods.
Communications with consumers remain anchored
Acknowledging that consumer adoption of Li-Fi has indeed been slow, Azoulay and Beylier said they had deprioritized the goal of equipping laptops, tablets and consumer phones with chips that would enable users to use light for Internet communications in much the same way radio-based Wi-Fi does today.
“We all dreamed of Li-Fi being integrated into smartphones and tablets, etc., etc.,” Azoulay said. “Personally, I strongly believed in it a few years ago, because we had concrete projects with smartphone manufacturers and IoT manufacturers. But at the end of the day, that didn’t materialize.
Beylier picked up the thought. “But over the last couple of years I’ve seen a huge change and tremendous acceleration,” he said. “Not in consumption, but in, I would say, industrial opportunities. Where Li-Fi technology solves problems that today cannot be solved by any other technology.
These opportunities include the military sector. Among other reasons, Li-Fi is generally considered much more secure than Wi-Fi because it requires line of sight to be intercepted. (Li-Fi rivals Signify and pureLiFi have both announced deals with the US military).
“You can’t detect it, you can’t block it,” Beylier said. “The war in Ukraine has put Li-Fi in the spotlight. It’s on everyone’s lips. Armies see Li-Fi as a way to reduce electromagnetic signature and improve mobility in high-intensity warfare.
To pack light
Aerospace and airlines are also ripe for Li-Fi, especially infrared Li-Fi, the two leaders said. Three years ago, Oledcomm supplied the Li-Fi systems to provide internet connections on a trial basis to passengers on an Air France commercial flight from Paris to Toulouse. So far, the lawsuit hasn’t led to wider airline adoption, but the time is right, executives said.
“You think about the cost of fuel, you think about airline carbon neutrality goals — replacing cables and saving hundreds of pounds on a plane is hugely attractive,” Beylier said.
Why use Oledcomm’s 940nm infrared, as opposed to visible light?
“Air France has been very clear that no traveler will agree to turn on the lights to access the internet,” Azoulay said.
And, he noted, there is a broad and compelling reason to use infrared rather than visible light in general: It’s faster, because the phosphor coating used to cause the blue LEDs to emit visible white light slows down the modulation process used to encode the data.
“You get much better performance with infrared than with white LED,” Azoulay said. “The speed can be three times that of white.”
Like Oledcomm, Signify has also gone infrared-only as a Li-Fi transmitter.
But while Signify can usually attach the infrared emitter to its visible-light LED fixtures, Oledcomm – a much smaller company and without Signify’s lighting heritage – has moved away from lighting. He’s tried partnering with lighting companies before, but “it just didn’t work out,” Azoulay said.
Now, when the company tries to sell to commercial offices or the like, it does not go to the facilities department.
“Oledcomm is a light telecommunications company,” Azoulay said. “We are not a lighting company. We do not sell to the building ecosystem. We sell to the IT ecosystem. We go to the IT manager of the company. The change started at the beginning of 2020.
The two co-CEOs sing on the same page.
“Oledcomm is not a lighting company,” Beylier said. “We are an optical communications company. And 100% of what we do today is based on invisible light.
Beylier provided a bullish outlook for the private company, based in the Paris suburb of Vélizy-Villacoublay, near Versailles.
“So in the industrial world and the defense world, there is this very clear acceleration, not only in the discussions we have, but also in our turnover which increases very significantly in 2022 compared to 2021” , said Beylier, whose background includes selling communications to defense and aerospace. “It’s going to be five to six times higher. So it’s definitely an acceleration, but not in the mainstream space, where I think it’s going to be several years before we see something big.
Going back to the company name, what about the “led” in Oledcomm? Aren’t LEDs just a waiting place for Li-Fi, with lasers about to arrive and offer much faster speeds?
“Yes, I think lasers have a clear role to play, I absolutely believe that,” Azoulay said.
We are not suggesting that the name will change to Olasercomm. But we know from a reliable source that the company does indeed have laser projects underway. We’ll tell you more about that in a separate article, along with insight into why consumer sales have been slow and the standards debate that has undermined Li-Fi’s progress.
BRAND HALPER is editor of LEDs Magazine and a journalist specializing in energy, technology and business ([email protected]).
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