It takes two: French Li-Fi company adds a co-CEO

Sept. 16, 2022
New boss is steeped in aerospace and defense experience, and in markets outside France.

One of the early vendors of Li-Fi, France’s Oledcomm, has added a second CEO who comes with experience in providing communication and connectivity services to the aerospace, defense, and maritime industries — sectors that could provide a lively market for the long-gestating technology.

Pierre-Jean Beylier, who was already on the Oledcomm board, now shares the CEO office with Benjamin Azoulay, who also continues as president.

Beylier “will handle business development, commercial, and marketing activities, while Benjamin will focus on pre-sales, research and development, operations, and other support functions,” an Oledcomm spokesperson told LEDs Magazine.

The new co-CEO also seems likely to pay a fair amount of attention to defense and aerospace, and on markets outside of Oledcomm’s home country. The company is based in Vélizy-Villacoublay, a Paris suburb.

“Oledcomm is adding the skills of an entrepreneur recognized in the space and defense industry, with a very international experience, especially in the United States and Asia-Pacific, as well as a track record in mergers and acquisitions and fundraising,” Oledcomm said in press release announcing the appointment.

Beylier was a key executive for 20 years at Speedcast, a satellite communications and IT services company now based in Houston but founded in Hong Kong in 1999. He was CEO there from 2004 until 2020, doing business in the Asia-Pacific region including Australia, where he led a Speedcast IPO in Sydney in 2014.

“Oledcomm has a very innovative, mature technology that addresses new and critical needs in a number of sectors, including defense and space — areas I know well,” Beylier said. “I was looking for a new entrepreneurial challenge where I could bring my experience, and I am therefore very happy to join Oledcomm in an operational role after having spent almost two years helping on the Board.”

Li-Fi is the Wi-Fi-like technology that uses modulated light waves rather than radio frequencies to transmit data. It has been around commercially for a decade, but has been slow to catch on. Deployments have typically been small, one-off or limited scale, although examples have been picking up among schools and the military and elsewhere.

Come fly with me

Aerospace is considered to be a primary growth area. Oledcomm provided the Li-Fi systems on a trial basis for a commercial Air France flight from Paris to Toulouse three years ago. Thus far, the trial has not led to wider-scale uptake on airlines.

“Oledcomm has a fantastic growth potential, which we now need to realize, and I am very motivated by this new challenge,” new co-CEO Beylier said.

In what could be a boost to that potential, co-CEO, president, and board member Azoulay noted that the company is awaiting the arrival of capital from the European Innovation Council’s EIC Accelerator Fund.

Azoulay is a former Philips Lighting vice president who took over as Oledcomm CEO in November 2016 from Suat Topsu (Topsu founded the company in 2012). Azoulay described himself and Beylier as “very complementary in our fields of expertise,” while also noting, “I am convinced that the co-CEO structure has a bright future in the management of companies and is perfectly suited to Oledcomms future growth challenges.”

Oledcomm targets the space, defense, industry, and education sectors, and claims to have 500 projects installed worldwide. Customer wins over the last year or so have come in the education, IT services, and telecom sectors in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland.

To Li-Fi or to Wi-Fi?

Li-Fi enthusiasts note that the technology can alleviate the crowded Wi-Fi spectrum and thus become a welcomed complement to Wi-Fi. It also provides stronger security than Wi-Fi, as any intruder would need line-of-sight access. Another advantage over Wi-Fi is that it eliminates the risk of radio interference with things like factory robots or hospital equipment.

But phone, tablet, and laptop makers have not yet embedded Li-Fi chips, so users must typically attach dongles, which has limited the appeal of the technology. One exception has been Taiwanese ruggedized laptop maker Getac, which has embedded Li-Fi chips from Edinburgh, Scotland’s pureLiFi.

Oledcomm itself introduced its own Li-Fi enabled tablet in January, called the LiFiMAXTab, manufactured by an Android tablet maker. Chip shortages have delayed its availability, “but now sales are stepping up fast primarily in the education sector in Europe,” the spokesperson told LEDs, adding that success with the tablet could encourage other tablet makers to embed Oledcomm Li-Fi.

PureLiFi recently announced that the Linux Kernel used in Android operating systems will include a pureLiFi driver, a move which could encourage phone makers to embed Li-Fi.

It hasn’t helped that the industry also has not yet settled on a single standard, with some companies, such as pureLiFi, preferring an IEEE approach, and others, such as Oledcomm and Signify, backing an ITU scheme. (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; ITU is the International Telecommunication Union).

While commercial Li-Fi offerings today all use LEDs as the transmitting source, the future could well be in lasers such as those under development at Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Kyocera SLD Laser, which augur considerably faster speeds. KSLD has identified the avionics sector, among others, as a key area.

MARK HALPER  is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

For up-to-the-minute LED and SSL updates, follow us on Twitter. You’ll find curated content and commentary, as well as information on industry events, webcasts, and surveys on our LinkedIn page and our Facebook page.

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.