In Blog Articles, Location-Based Services

The Department of Energy forecasts LED lighting will comprise about 30% of U.S. lighting installations by 2020. By 2035, LEDs are predicted to make up more than 85% of all lighting stock in the country, driving 5.1 quadrillion BTUs in annual energy savings (read: a lot). Given that lighting makes up the largest source of electricity consumption in commercial U.S. buildings, these energy savings will represent significant financial savings as well. That’s smart lighting.

Know what’s even smarter? Harnessing the unique capabilities of LED lighting to enable more than just the illumination of spaces—to improve business processes and customer engagement. Here’s how some forward-thinking companies are experimenting with smart lighting for indoor wayfinding and more.

Visible Light Communications: Morse Code Meets Smoke Signals Crossed with Wi-Fi

We’ve talked about using beacons and GPS to enable mobile indoor wayfinding and other location-based services. These different technologies provide different types of location data inputs that can be ingested by a platform (like Phunware’s) and turned into an app user’s location on a map, for example, or used to trigger a proximity-based marketing message.

To learn more, check out the eBook Location Technology 101: Understanding Bluetooth, Blue Dot, Geo-Fencing and More.


All digital messages break down to 1s and 0s. With visible light communications (VLC), 1s and 0s are communicated as “on” and “off.” Because they’re built on semiconductors, LED light fixtures can be programmed to switch on and off in specific patterns so fast that the human eye can’t perceive any flickering. Light sensors—like the camera in your mobile phone—can perceive these patterns and decode / receive the digital message being sent. Smart software (again, like Phunware’s) can turn that digital message into a user experience.

VLC Is a Bright Idea for Indoor Mobile Wayfinding

In fact, wayfinding is one of the most exciting use cases for this technology. Here’s how it works.

  • Company A updates its indoor lighting with an energy-efficient LED system, which uses VLC technology to pulse out a fast, unique “I am here” message.
  • Company A’s mobile app includes indoor wayfinding. When the wayfinding feature is active, the app leverages the smartphone camera to detect VLC signals.
  • The back-end mobile platform interprets each unique VLC signal to pinpoint where the app user is in relationship to the smart lighting system.
  • The mobile app represents the user’s location visually on an indoor map and provides turn-by-turn navigation to the user’s destination.

LEDs provide extremely accurate location data for use in mobile wayfinding. The user’s device and position can be identified within one-tenth of a second and updated as often as five times per second. VLC-enabled LED lighting fixtures come in a range of sizes and styles, and can be installed as quickly and easily as traditional lighting fixtures. They represent a smart way to upgrade any facility’s lighting for both energy-efficiency and future mobile use cases.

Solving for the Pocket

VLC’s accuracy depends on a clear line of sight between the user’s device and the VLC module. If the user’s device is in a pocket, purse or messenger bag—or if the camera is temporarily tilted or blocked—location accuracy can be affected. Incorporating Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) physical or virtual beacons as part of the wayfinding solution provides a safety net for instances where devices may not be directly exposed to the LED light, with accuracy up to one meter.

Smart Lighting in More Ways Than One

A VLC-enabled LED lighting system, coupled with a location-enabled mobile solution, lays a foundation for multiple future use cases across every vertical. Mobile wayfinding is just the start—location analytics can help organizations understand consumers better and optimize operations. Mobile data can reveal where people congregate within a space, where bottlenecks occur, how long people stay at a given location and much more. These insights can be used to help shape facility design, streamline foot traffic and serve the public better.

To learn more, check out the eBook Mobile Data: the Missing Link in Your User Acquisition and Engagement Strategies.


When you look farther along VLC’s trajectory, the potential gets even more exciting. Many experts believe “Li-Fi” (light fidelity) networks may complement or even replace Wi-Fi, offering data transfer rates of up to 224 gigabits per second with greater security and higher bandwidth. IEEC Spectrum, the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology, likens Li-Fi with IoT (Internet of Things) applications: “We already have nearly all of the infrastructure in place to get it to work. LED lighting is prevalent, intelligent LED lighting is becoming more prevalent, and it’s all affordable and easy to install for consumers.”

Phunware’s mobile platform works as well with VLC as it does with beacons, GPS and Wi-Fi. In fact, Phunware recently partnered with Acuity Brands to provide a joint solution for a indoor wayfinding enabled by LED lighting. We’re offering a fantastic 90-day trial of this solution—get the details here.

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