Practical Application for Wireless & Mobile Networking: Using Light-Based Wireless Networks

Instructor: James Thomason
In this practical lesson, we'll explore some basic concepts of light-based wireless networks. We'll also consider some of the major characteristics of this new technology that differentiate it from radio-based wireless networks.

Lesson Overview

For this practical lesson you will evaluate the wireless networking needs of a high school. You will need to be able to determine whether to use a radio-based or light-based wireless system to accomplish the project.

Required Skills/Knowledge

  • General understanding of wireless network operation
    • How wireless clients deal with weaker/stronger signals
    • Potential channel overlap
  • General understanding of the differences between light and radio waves
    • Speeds
    • How environmental or surroundings affect each

Radio Waves vs. Light Waves

Since the inception of wireless communication, radio waves have been the standard system in use. Radio waves, scientifically known as sound waves, travel at approximately 762 miles per hour (mph). Light waves travel at 186,000 miles per second (mps). Performing a little math shows us that light travels at 669,600,000 mph...WOW! That's more than 880,000 times the speed of sound! With that kind of speed, we could post changes to our Facebook accounts before we even think about them! Let's face the reality of this though...762 mph is just not fast enough any longer.

Light-based wireless systems use light waves instead of radio waves. Sound and light behave differently in regards to their surroundings. We can see this in action when we turn on a light within a room. That light fills the room, but does not go beyond the walls into another room unless there is glass or an opening. Whereas, if we blast our favorite radio station from our state-of-the-art home entertainment center, we can hear that sound throughout our entire home. You can see that both technologies have advantages in different situations.

Radio and light waves vary greatly in the amount of potential bandwidth and number of channels they can take advantage of when put into use. Radio waves are at the lower end of the spectrum and light waves are on the upper end. Take a look at the diagram below to see some of these differences. Not to get too technical, but keep in mind that as the frequency increases, so does the amount of information that can be transmitted as well as the number of channels that can be utilized. These two characteristics become very important when designing a wireless system.

EMF Spectrum

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