Engineers from the University of Edinburgh are to carry out tests of light-enabled technology in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in the hope to address connectivity issues.

The research team from the School of Engineering hope the field trial in Caithness will help to address the challenge of insufficient web connectivity for businesses and homes in remote parts of the country.

Poor connections

Rural communities may be several miles from a telephone exchange, which is too far for high-speed broadband to work, or served by slow copper wire infrastructure. Satellite connection for high-speed access, on the other hand, is very expensive and poses added technical problems.

A team from the Li-Fi Research & Development Centre will implement a trial of their wireless communication, which uses light beams to carry data, and solar cells as receivers.

Norscot Joinery, a small business in Bower, Caithness, will host the trial.

Peter Brady, the Managing Director of Norscot Joinery, commented: “We are badly served by a mixture of fixed line and satellite broadband, with little prospect of superfast broadband. We are very keen to explore any option which offers us the potential for improved connectivity. We live and work in a digital world and our business is being disadvantaged by poor internet access.”

Light signals

The novel system – known as Inter-Light Net (ILN) – will use off-the-shelf solar panels not only to harvest energy from sunlight, but also to detect data from light beams.

A laser transmitter placed at a spot with good internet connectivity is used to encode data as the light is rapidly turned on and off.

These flickers of light are too fast for the eye to see, but are perceived as fluctuations in light energy detected by the solar panel, which correspond to the data transmitted.

Researchers have used this principle to decode digital information at very high transmission speeds.

Quality transmission

The use of a large solar panel ensures that alignment of the laser beam is less critical than in other expensive systems of this type.

Engineers hope that atmospheric conditions, such as fog, may have minimal impact on transmission quality.

The project was instigated by Highland Councillor Karl Rosie, who is hopeful that this new Internet infrastructure technology may support the local economy.