Digital Agenda: OMEGA research project uses light to help achieve higher broadband speeds

An EU-funded research project has created a system for higher broadband speeds that can connect many more devices in the home. Today, Wi-Fi is the home networking solution everyone uses, but it is unlikely to be able to meet future demands by itself. To ensure, for example, that families could stream multiple movies at the same time, researchers on the "HOME Gigabit Access" (OMEGA) project have developed a network using a combination of power cables, radio signals and light. This technology could ensure that every office and household has enough bandwidth to connect a range of "smart" objects to each other like phones, cars and domestic appliances. The OMEGA project is run by researchers from companies, universities and research institutions in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The EU provided €12.41 million of a total budget of €19.13 million.

Using visible and infrared light –similar to that of a TV remote control– the researchers were able to transmit data at up to 280 Mbps over a distance of 10 metres. The data was transferred in two directions between multiple devices, thus creating an infrared network. In a world first, the project team sent data using LED ceiling lighting, increasingly common in many homes.

Combining this technology with, for example, radio transmission, could result in much higher broadband speeds for consumers. It could also have other advantages when used alone, as this kind of technology, known as Visible Light Communication causes less radio interference because the signal is contained within one room. This would be particularly beneficial for use in, for example, hospitals or production plants, where a radio transmission network is either not permitted or where it interferes with the functioning of some equipment.

Industry is now ready to produce devices based on a standard (IEEE P1905.1) launched thanks to the OMEGA project. The project was 65% funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7). The Commission aims to support future ground-breaking innovation through the Horizon 2020 programme. €16 billion of its proposed €80 billion budget has been earmarked to foster breakthroughs in Information and Communication Technologies.