News, views and contacts from the global telecommunications industry


Key Data

Infrared data and communication is a mode of communication that now plays an important role in wireless data communication. It suits the use of laptop computers, wireless data communication and other digital equipment such as personal assistants, cameras, mobile telephones and pagers.

The Infrared Data Association (IrDA) was established in 1993 to create and maintain international standards for the hardware and software used in infrared communication links. This organisation has created inter-operable interconnection standards, allowing a point-to-point user-access model to benefit the consumer. Its membership of over 160 companies encompasses all major hardware, software and systems providers, together with manufacturers and service providers.


This form of radio transmission - a focused ray of light in the infrared frequency spectrum - is modulated with information and sent from a transmitter to a receiver. The frequency spectrum is measured in terahertz (trillions of hertz) at cycles per second - the same as that used for activating a television remote control.

The communication between the devices requires that each has a transceiver (a combination of a transmitter and a receiver) in order to communicate. This capability is provided by microchip technology. However, devices may also require further, specialised software allowing communication to be synchronised. One example of this is the designated support that is in Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system.

The IrDA 1.1 standard has a maximum data transmission size of 2,048 bytes and a maximum transmission rate of 4Mbps. It is forecast that this will rise to 16Mbps in the near future. Although the IrDA standard only specifies compliance for the interconnection of products of up to 1m in distance, many IrDA-compliant products can connect at distances of much more than this.

IR can be used over longer interconnections and has an applicability to local area networks (LANs). However, the maximum effective distance is approximately 1 mile, with a maximum bandwidth of 16Mbps.

One technological disadvantage is that IR uses a line-of-sight transmission. Thus, it is sensitive to atmospheric conditions and bad weather, particularly fog.


As mentioned above, the short distance of interconnection drives the main application of this technology between appliances. Thus, according to the IrDA, at present, the main benefits and applications are:

  • Sending a document from your notebook computer to a printer

  • Co-ordinating schedules and telephone books between desktop and hand-held (notebook) computers

  • Sending faxes from a hand-held computer, via a public telephone, to a distant fax machine

  • Beaming images from digital cameras to a desktop computer

  • Exchanging messages, business cards, and other information between hand-held personal computers

For some of these functions, an interconnection between the hand-held or laptop computer and the desktop PC/printer in the form of an IR port, is required. Alternatively an IR adapter can be used.


Infrared technology claims to be as secure as cable applications. For example, the access to LANs requires the user to be an authorised user of the network. Also, it claims to be more reliable than wired technology as it obviates wear and tear on the hardware used.

In the future, it is forecast that this technology will be implemented in copiers, fax machines, overhead projectors, bank ATMs, credit cards, game consoles and headsets. All of these have local applications and it is really here where this technology is best suited, owing to the inherent difficulties in its technological process for interconnecting over distances.