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ByteLight Unveils NFC Alternative Called Light Field Communication 75

Posted by timothy
from the critical-mass-is-the-critical-factor dept.
IndoorGPSguy writes "Gigaom is reporting Boston-based startup ByteLight has launched a new product called LFC (Light Field Communication). This technology is a new alternative to NFC. It works by transmitting data through an LFC terminal, which is then picked up by the camera on any smartphone. Customers can tap their phones for mobile loyalty programs and mobile payments. It works on any smartphone with a camera, unlike NFC, which doesn't work on iPhones. Gigaom writes: "According to ByteLight, the advantage in using LFC over NFC isn't just accessibility (nearly all smartphones have cameras while NFC chips are harder to come by), but also expense and flexibility.""
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ByteLight Unveils NFC Alternative Called Light Field Communication

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  • If it is light flashes, what's to prevent someone from snooping it from afar? Convenient technology often means insecure technology. Weird to develop a product just because one of the major phone vendors don't support a protocol. Seems like that vendor should add that feature to their phones, rather than re-invent a new protocol.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      NFC has the same problem. You just can't see it with your own eyes.

      • "NFC has the same problem. You just can't see it with your own eyes."

        NFC has a far bigger problem, because (A) its security was broken before it was even widely available, and (B) researchers showed they could snarf NFC credentials from smartphones from several feet away, using very cheap equipment (on the order of a few hundred $). And that's when the NFC wasn't even actively in use... just turned on.

        Add to that the fact that if you had a large enough antenna array, you could put it behind a wall TENS of feet away, and catch all the NFC transactions going through the che

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      If it is light flashes, what's to prevent someone from snooping it from afar? Convenient technology often means insecure technology. Weird to develop a product just because one of the major phone vendors don't support a protocol. Seems like that vendor should add that feature to their phones, rather than re-invent a new protocol.

      They don't seem to be too concerned with the other limitation: the communication is strictly one-way, from the POS to the handset, and the handset then has to find it's way back to the payment system (via wifi or mobile). This is the reverse of how NFC payments typically work and will require a much different architecture. Stores already have barcode scanners at every POS, and with a little software they can easily interact with non-NFC smartphones that display loyalty info on the screen. This is the big

      • It's the modern CueCat.

        Now they just have to get Wired to bundle one with every copy of the magazine.

        • ...and RadioShack to toss one in with every purchase, after asking firmly for your full name, address, and phone number.
      • by Bogtha (906264)

        Stores already have barcode scanners at every POS, and with a little software they can easily interact with non-NFC smartphones that display loyalty info on the screen.

        Depends on the type of scanner. Laser scanners are widespread and don't work well with phone screens.

    • If it is light flashes, what's to prevent someone from snooping it from afar? Convenient technology often means insecure technology. Weird to develop a product just because one of the major phone vendors don't support a protocol. Seems like that vendor should add that feature to their phones, rather than re-invent a new protocol.

      They're for different use cases, I'd have thought. I can have an NFC smartcard which has processing capabilty on the chip, take a Mifare Ultralight for instance and I have a hard to get at private key and a bunch of other symmetric keys for different uses *and* the ability to computation operations on the card. I can also stick the card in my wallet. If I just want an NFC tag which is a glorified barcode with more data storage or a way of doing some simple data transfer then I can see the parallels to ot

    • You're new to the whole Apple thing, aren't you? Why use tech the plebs use when you can use something else entirely and try to force everyone else to make the switch too?

  • You actually have to point your activated camera at the terminal, so you can't be hijacked by some rogue transmitter using a zero day flaw to root your phone via the NFC chip when you happen to pass within range.

    • You actually have to point your activated camera at the terminal, so you can't be hijacked by some rogue transmitter using a zero day flaw to root your phone via the NFC chip when you happen to pass within range.

      Indeed. It seems to me that NFC is inherently insecure, which is why I don't trust it enough to use it. A transaction involving the camera should be safer, unless there's some God-like hacker out there sending encoded lightning flashes from the sky.

  • Sounds like going back to the days of infrared communications on phones. I'm not sure how this is better or worse than QR codes, except perhaps that you can cram more data into the stream.
    • Sounds like going back to the days of infrared communications on phones. I'm not sure how this is better or worse than QR codes, except perhaps that you can cram more data into the stream.

      Worse. From their site:

      "ByteLight’s software provides a low-cost way for pushing hyper-targeted digital content to shoppers and associates within a retail store. With sub-meter accuracy and sub-second latency – ByteLight redefines mobile marketing and workflow management. "

      Whatever its technical merits or faults, this concept is an abominable spawn of data-mining marketing scum. At least IR was a (painfully limited) data transport layer that was nominally in the user's service.

  • I guess the National Football Conference will have to step up its game now that it has competition.

  • The infamous infrared returns?

  • NFC is over a decade old and never took off. Industry needs to shift behind BLE.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pi1grim (1956208)

      It is taking off now in bank cards, phones and tags. Most of the phones make after GNex have NFC onboard. So I wouldn't burry the standart yet. Especially in favor of some obscure standard, that could as well be an animated GIF with QR codes.
      NFC rocks with it's simplicity - you touch something - it starts working (an URL is opened, phones are paired and file transfer is initiated and so on).

  • "Light Field Communication" sounds like a very pompous name for what infrared-capable phones did back in the day. I would read the original article to verify my claims but the links are broken.
  • And just who are you going to be paying with this technology? Good luck getting MC and Visa on board with a new technology when they just finished a huge push for NFC support.
    • by xpax666 (2625167)
      Exactly. The monolithic organizations who've put their weight behind NFC aren't going to give up because a) somebody hacked together a blinky lights app in their basement or b) Apple can't be bothered to keep up with technology.
  • by der (3003283)
    It works on iOS....that's HUGE.
  • For un-encrypted communication just flash the lights or display an image using any common one-way protocol.

    For encrypted communication, have a camera on the terminal and have the user put his phone up to the terminal and display a picture or pictures that represent an encryption algorithm and a key, then aim the phone's camera at the terminal to receive the encrypted message using any common one-way protocol.

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @11:16AM (#44446819)

    ByteLight, ByteLight, turn on the magical flashing lights...

  • I'm more concerned with whether or not NFC is better than AFC. I suppose we'll find out in February.

  • With the abysmal data throughput of most cellphone cameras (~10bps assuming a 30fps video sensor) this can only send the ID of the nearby LED light. This is not equivalent to NFC, which transmits encrypted data directly with the device. As they describe on their site, it is just indoor GPS... your phone uses network traffic, queries the ByteLight server to ask what data is relevant to your physical location (the business pays ByteLight to store this), and sends it to you.

    NFC: Method for securely transmittin

  • by sjames (1099)

    Someone had half a good idea (I can add full duplex with just a few seconds of thought), then surrounded it with a bunch of marketing woo of dubious value and named it ByteLight.

    It'll never run at more than 15 bps since they cannot assume more than 30 fps progressive from the camera and it's inevitably asynchronous. So 1 byte per second with error correction.

    I can think of a few ways to make it suck less, but they'll have to pay me first and I won't be held responsible if it provokes a Fringe event or summo

    • This is really just a more refined version of the Timex Datalink [wikipedia.org] system. There was even a serial port driven LED accessory for use on notebooks and platforms where the screen flickering CRT video driver wasn't an option.

      I'm sure they got a shiny new patent out of it any way since they've made the huge innovation of using a camera rather than a photocell.

      • by sjames (1099)

        It is closely related, though the datalink could go much faster in theory (I don't know how fast the link actually was) since it could present several high to low transitions per video frame and they could freely choose the reciever's sample rate.

  • When I saw the title, I thought it might actually be a communication protocol based on light fields, which could be pretty neat. Kind of a beamed data hologram. Such a system might have a potential for high data density as the amount of data in a light field is pretty crazy. The reality of this just being a blinking LED was quite the let down.

  • Wow! What a great idea! Light field communication!

    Didn't this used to be called "posting a sign?"

  • NFC ICs cost $1 in large quantities. Apple is just being lazy.

  • Yet another protocol I have to manually disable and opt out of...

  • It was called an IR port. I think I just stepped back in time.

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