What Is Infrared Networking and How Does It Work?

IR technology preceded Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for transferring files

Using an infrared (IR) connection, computers equipped with an IR sensor could transfer files and other digital data over short-range wireless signals. This IR technology was similar to that used in consumer-oriented TV remote control units but the much faster and far more versatile Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have since replaced it.

Installation and Usage

Computer infrared network adapters both transmit and receive data through ports on the rear or side of a device. Many laptops and personal hand-held devices had infrared adapters installed. In Microsoft Windows, infrared connections used the same method as other local area network connections.

Infrared networks supported direct two-computer connections only, created temporarily as the need arose. Extensions to infrared technology, however, supported more than two computers and semi-permanent networks.

IR Range

Infrared communications span only short distances. When networking two infrared devices, they must be within a few feet of each other. Unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies, infrared network signals cannot penetrate walls or other obstructions and work only within a direct line of sight. Anything that blocks that direct line between two IR devices also blocks IR communication.


Infrared technology used in local networks exists in three forms that the Infrared Data Association (IrDA) recognizes:

  • IrDA-SIR: Slow-speed infrared that supports data rates up to 115 Kbps.
  • IrDA-MIR: Medium-speed infrared that supports data rates up to 1.15 Mbps.
  • IrDA-FIR: High-speed infrared that supports data rates up to 4 Mbps.

Other Uses for Infrared Technology

Although IR no longer plays a role in transferring files from one computer to another, it is still a valuable technology in other fields. Among them are:

  • Night vision: Infrared amplifies light in low-light situations.
  • Art history: researchers use IR technology to peek through layers of paint on works of art to see what lies beneath.
  • Heating: Infrared generates and conducts heat, so it's popular in saunas, restaurant food-warming stations, and cooking appliances such as grills.
  • Thermography: IR technology determines the relative temperature of objects.
  • Weather forecasting: weather satellites use IR technology to determine temperature and cloud formations.
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