Infrared communication or IR communication is a specific type of wireless communication technology that uses infrared electromagnetic radiation for short-range and one-on-one communication between two devices. Notable applications include data transmission using the IrDA standard and free-space optical communication.
Within the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared sits between microwaves and visible light, and occupies wavelengths between 700 nm and 1 mm, as well as frequencies ranging from 430 THz to 300 GHz. Furthermore, similar to other forms of electromagnetic radiation, it propagates energy and exhibits both wave-like and particle-like properties.
Pros: Advantages of Infrared Communication
The working principle behind IR communication is considerably straightforward: it centers on pairing a transmitter with a receiver. For starters, take note that devices enabled for IR communication are called IrDA devices and they are manufactured following the standards set forth by the Infrared Data Association or IrDA.
An IrDA transmitter uses a light-emitting diode or LED to blast IR signals in the form of rapidly switching on-off or pulsating beam. The IR beam carries the data encoded by the transmitter. An IrDA receiver equipped with a silicone photodiode then converts this signal into an electric current for further processing and decoding.
Below are the advantages or benefits and applications of IR communication:
• Simplicity: One of the advantages of infrared communication is the simplicity of its general operating principle. The technology is relatively easier to implement than other wireless communication technologies. Thus, it has been used in a range of portable devices to include appliances and their accessories or peripherals, medical devices, computers, printers, and smartphones and other smart devices, among others.
• Inexpensive Technology: The simplicity of IR communication translates further to low cost of implementation. Hence, this is the reason why it is the most widely used wireless communication technology for short-range and one-on-one use-case applications. The best examples could be found in remote-controlled appliances such as television sets, air conditioners, and lighting fixtures, among others.
• Limited Interception: Infrared radiation travels in a line-of-sight fashion and has a short range. Risks of interception and interference are low compared to other wireless communication technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct.
• Power Efficiency: The LED used in blasting IR beams has low power requirements. Furthermore, the entire IrDA transmitter can be operated with small and non-rechargeable batteries. These batteries can last for months. The technology is suitable for low-power use-case scenarios, such as in the case of small and portable devices.
• Extensive Applications: Apart from remote sensors, IR communication technology has other applications specified by IrDA. These include using infrared to connect a device to a local area network via the IrLAN specification, wireless payment standard via the infrared financial messaging or IrFM protocol, and binary object exchange using the Object Exchange or OBEX standard, among others.
Cons: Disadvantages of Infrared Communication
The IrDA standard was the most popular wireless communication technology used in mobile devices such as PDAs, as well as laptops, some desktop computers, and portable gaming consoles during the 1990s through the early 2000s. However, because it has several disadvantages and limitations, it was soon displaced by radio-based wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Below are the drawbacks and limitations of IR communication:
• Line of Sight Propagation: One of the characteristics of infrared is that it travels to a considerably direct path from one point to another or in a straight line. This is called line of sight propagation, and it is one of the disadvantages of IR communication technology. Unlike radio-based communication, an IrDA transmitter needs to be aligned with an IrDA receiver. Note that the remote control of a television set would not work if it is not beamed directly to the TV screen.
• Short Transmission Range: Infrared also has shorter wavelengths than microwaves and radio waves. Within the electromagnetic spectrum, the shorter the wavelengths, the shorter it can travel. The standard developed by IrDA also uses low-powered IrDA transmitters. IR communication technology only works at a short range of 10 meters or less. Adding to the line-of-sight limitation, the proximity of wireless communication via infrared is considerably limited.
• Obstructions: There is also the fact that infrared does not penetrate solid objects like concrete, wood, and even opaque plastics. The electromagnetic waves of infrared radiation can also be affected by smoke, fog, dust, and sunlight, among others. IrDA transmitters can also interfere with one another. Both distance and the presence of obstructions or interferences can affect device performance.
• Security Issues: Of course, IR communication is considerably secured because of obstruction, range, and line-of-sight limitations that make it less vulnerable to interception. However, some IrDA receivers can respond to several IrDA transmitters, especially if data encoding and transmission is unencrypted, thus raising security concerns for remote-controlled devices.