IMDEA Networks introduces the OpenVLC platform for research in Visible Light Communication Systems

08 August 2016

Visible Light Communication (VLC), sometimes also referred to as “Li-Fi”, uses standard off-the-shelf visible light LEDs to transmit data using the visible light spectrum. The idea is very simple: the light emitted by standard LED luminaries is modulated to transmit data at such high speed that the human eye cannot perceive light changes. In other terms, VLC is “like sending Morse code signal with a torch, but a much faster rate and using the alphabet that computers understand” (Prof. Haas, CNN news, Sept. 2012).

VLC is currently receiving significant attention from the researchers and designers of 5G networks and beyond. Because of the much greater bandwidth available in the visible light spectrum with respect to radio frequency spectrum, VLC can help address the looming spectrum crunch problem. The interplay of this factor with the high-energy efficiency of LEDs will also enable new pervasive wireless systems in the realms of the Internet of Things (IoT) and accelerate the growth rate of connected IoT devices.

A research team led by Dr. Domenico Giustiniano, Research Associate Professor at IMDEA Networks Institute is carrying out an important research project called Open VLC. Since VLC is a new technology, as of today there is no open-source reference platform for research in VLC networks.  The goal of the project is to overcome this strong limitation and design a solution that is low-cost, flexible and programmable for the research community. The availability of a general-purpose platform would add momentum to VLC research, open up new avenues of VLC research and spark the interest of researchers and engineers. It can be used as a starter kit for embedded VLC research, as well as an education kit for courses aimed at undergraduate students.

Potential applications of VLC technology

The mission of OpenVLC

In order to accomplish these objectives, the initial step taken by the research team is to design and build the OpenVLC platform. In technical terms, the researchers create an open-source VLC platform for fast prototyping of new system protocols and build a Li-Fi network. The software-defined approach of the platform allows easily reconfiguring the system according to the application needs. The platform runs on a cost-effective yet powerful credit-card-sized embedded board.

OpenVLC is led by IMDEA Networks Institute, in partnership with SUPSI, University of Houston, TU Delft and IEIIT/CNR. Dr. Domenico Giustiniano has been leading the OpenVLC project since its conception. Dr. Qing Wang, who recently defended his PhD thesis under the supervision of Dr. Giustianiano, has been the key pre-doctoral researcher behind the project. Thanks to the results conducted in the OpenVLC project, Qing Wang was awarded the prestigious “2014 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-Financed Students Abroad” (CSC). Only a mere 500 young Chinese talents receive the award every year.

Currently there is an open call to make available the first hardware prototypes to selected applicants with an exciting project idea. As a result of this open call, OpenVLC has already been used for research and teaching in more than ten top Universities and Institutes. Several distinguished Professors, Researchers and research groups are using OpenVLC in their research and lab courses. Additionally, the platform designed by the IMDEA research team received a very high level of attention in the recent demonstration sessions at ACM MobiCom’15 and IEEE/ACM IPSN 2016.

OpenVLC from a technical viewpoint

In order to fully shed light on the uniqueness of the platform, some technical details are introduced here. OpenVLC is composed of three parts:

  1. An embedded system easily available on the market (BeagleBone Black, BBB).
  2. The OpenVLC1.1 hardware, i.e., the VLC transceiver (also called BBB cape).
  3. The OpenVLC1.1 software, a software-defined PHY and MAC layer, implemented as a Linux driver.


Technical equipment used in the OpenVLC platform.

The OpenVLC1.1 hardware includes three optical components: a low-power LED, a high-power LED, and a photodiode. Several visible light communication channels can be enabled, such as the transmission from a high-power LED to a photodiode and the transmission from a low-power LED to another low-power LED, acting as receiver. The OpenVLC1.1 software is implemented as a Linux driver that can communicate directly with the OpenVLC 1.1 hardware and the Linux networking stack. In OpenVLC, the VLC interface is set up as a new communication interface that can take advantage of the vast range of Linux tools. The most recent driver can be downloaded from Github.


  • Domenico Giustiniano, Research Associate Professor, IMDEA Networks Institute
  • Qing Wang, Postdoc Researcher, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands


Source(s): IMDEA Networks Institute
  • Qing Wang, Danilo De Donno, Domenico Giustiniano (April 2016) 
    Demonstration Abstract: Research Platform for Visible Light Communication and Sensing Systems (Demo) [PDF Download PDF in new window]
    In: The 15th International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN '16), 11-14 April 2016, Vienna, Austria
  • Qing Wang, Domenico Giustiniano (March 2016)
    Intra-Frame Bidirectional Transmission in Networks of Visible LEDs [PDF Download PDF in new window]
    In: IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, PP (99). pp. 1-13. ISSN 1063-6692 
  • Qing Wang, Shengrong Yin, Omprakash Gnawali, Domenico Giustiniano (September 2015) Demo: OpenVLC1.0 Platform for Research in Visible Light Communication Networks [PDF Download PDF in new window]
    In: ACM MobiCom, 7-11 September 2015, Paris, France
  • Domenico Giustiniano, Qing Wang (July 2015)
    OpenVLC, an Open-Source Platform for the Internet of Light (Invited Talk). [PDF Download PDF in new window]
    In: IEEE Summer Topicals Meeting Series 2015 - Visible Light Communications (VisC) topical meeting, 13-15 July 2015, Nassau, Bahamas.
  • Qing Wang, Domenico Giustiniano, Daniele Puccinelli (April 2015)
    An Open-Source Research Platform for Embedded Visible Light Networking [PDF Download PDF in new window]
    In: IEEE Wireless Communications, 22 (2). pp. 94-100
  • Qing Wang, Domenico Giustiniano (December 2014)
    Communication Networks of Visible Light Emitting Diodes with Intra-Frame Bidirectional Transmission [PDF Download PDF in new window] In: ACM CoNEXT, 2-5 December 2014, Sydney, Australia
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