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Philips acquires French Li-Fi company

The Dutch lighting giant quietly picked up Luciom late last year, and has already moved it to Eindhoven.

Holland’s Philips Lighting has quietly acquired a small French company specializing in visible light communications (VLC) in a move believed to be aimed at boosting Philips’ capabilities in Li-Fi, the light-based technology expected to provide Wi-Fi-like two-way Internet communications.

The company, Luciom, has relocated from Colombelles near Caen in northern France, to Philips Lighting headquarters in Eindhoven.

“Philips Lighting acquired Luciom at the end of 2016,” a Philips spokesperson confirmed for LEDs Magazine, noting that all eight of Luciom’s employees now work for Philips.

The spokesperson would not say whether the eight will continue to operate under the Luciom banner.

“Together the companies study a number of technologies that could enable existing and new lighting technologies,” the Philips spokesperson told LEDs Magazine. He declined to say what the Luciom team will now focus on. Luciom chief executive Michel Germe did not reply to LEDs for a comment by press time.

Luciom is developing several technologies related to VLC, including Li-Fi. Philips appears to be particularly interested in Luciom’s potential to improve Li-Fi in several ways, including speed, coding/decoding, and reliability.

Li-Fi in general has remained stuck in a nascent stage, limited to pilot implementations and demos from vendors such as Scotland’s pureLiFi and others. Philips is expected to invest in the Luciom technology in a push toward commercializing it. Once Li-Fi takes hold, the idea is that it can become another means of wireless Internet transmission. It would complement Wi-Fi in large part by opening much more frequency to Internet use; Wi-Fi with its radio frequencies is more limited than the considerably wider spectrum of LED lightwaves on which Li-Fi data rides.

Luciom is best known for a “tagging” scheme, which individual LED lights use to uniquely identify themselves in one-way indoor-positioning systems. Compared to two-way Li-Fi, indoor-positioning is a more basic form of VLC that sends small amounts for information from a light to a phone or other gadget. A number of retailers are experimenting with one-way VLC to try to engage shoppers in stores with information and direct them to promotions. Philips has had a trial with a Carrefour store in France and with the Dubai-based retail chain aswaaq. In the US, Target is trialing the technology, although it has never revealed its supplier, as our sister publication Lux Review has reported.

Philips is believed to have acquired Luciom for less than €10 million. LEDs understands that at one point Philips might have raised patent infringement queries related to Luciom, which could have factored into the price of the purchase.

“The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed,” the Philips spokesperson said via email, in response to questions about any patent implications.

For Germe and Luciom, the acquisition is a sort of corporate back-to-the-future, as Luciom evolved from NXP Semiconductors, the Eindhoven-based semiconductor company which was until 2006 Philips’ semiconductor division.

Germe himself was an LED lighting architect at NXP, and worked as a radio frequency specialist at Philips Semiconductors in Caen from 2000 to 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. Luciom’s offices near Caen were in a plaza called Esplanade Anton Philips, presumably named for the son and brother of Frederik and Gerard who co-founded Philips Electronics in 1891. Anton and Gerard are credited as co-founders of the 1912 incarnation Royal Philips Electronics N.V., and Anton was CEO from 1922 to 1939.

via MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist (markhalper@aol.com).

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