Is Li-Fi The Next Big Step In Wireless Internet?

Posted by Neil
Oct 20, 2016

The advent of wireless connectivity has been the biggest game changer the industry has ever seen. It opened us up to fast internet on everything from phones to printers, laptops to watches, and the innovation we’ve seen – particularly with mobile – would never have happened without it.

Now, though, we’re entering a new era. Back in November 2015, Li-Fi was tested and found to be 100 times faster than our current speeds. Used in some offices in Tallinn, Estonia, the invention of Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, in 2011, is likely to be the future of connectivity.

What Is Li-Fi?

Li-Fi stands for Light Fidelity and, in basic terms, it uses LED light bulbs to transfer data. Mr Haas presented it at a TEDGlobal talk in 2011 entitled ‘What if every light bulb in the world could also transmit data?’, when he discussed how connectivity has turned into a utility by being so fundamental to modern life.

Mr Haas explained how the capacity, efficiency, availability and security of wireless connections are the main four issues, and argued that LED light bulbs can transmit a vast number of data streams for quicker, more efficient and safer wireless connectivity.

So, where Wi-Fi uses radio waves, Li-Fi runs by visible light. What happens is that LED light bulbs – using the technology – send embedded data through the beam to a photo-detector, which is then turned into an electrical signal. For an idea of the extra speed, experiments clocked transmission at 224 gigabits per second, whereas Wi-Fi works at around 600 megabits per second.

Major Benefits of Li-Fi

There are a few obvious areas where Li-Fi could be implemented. Underwater communications is one, because while radio waves are absorbed, Li-Fi is available. Healthcare areas like hospitals don’t allow Wi-Fi because it penetrates the human body, but that isn’t an issue with Li-Fi. Navigation systems and traffic information are other potential opportunities for this technology.

What Are The Problems With Li-Fi?

The first major issue is that it can only be used with artificial light. What that means is that you need the specific light bulbs throughout your home for the best connectivity and you won’t be able to use them outside, aside from (potentially) under street lights. Not only that, but lights have to be on at all times to get this working. Li-Fi also doesn’t work through walls, so there is a suggestion that it may be more practical for use in industrial and retail environments rather than at home.

Are We Likely To See Li-Fi Soon?

According to reports, Li-Fi has been an ongoing topic since well before 2011 and Samsung even applied for 25 patents around Li-Fi. That said, it’s obviously taking time to find out how to use it most effectively. The Delhi and Tallinn-based start-up Velmenni is doing more and more real-world tests and its CEO Deepak Solanki believes it could be a consumer product in as little as three years.

Will It Replace Wi-Fi?

The inventors suggest that once it becomes a mainstream product, Li-Fi will be as cheap as using an LED bulb. According to Haas, “radio spectrum is not sufficient”, and this is especially true when we see people crowding around slow internet hubs in places like airports and hotels.

More than half of the world’s internet transmissions are done by Wi-Fi and that number continues to grow. There are barriers, including simple issues like blocked light, that are unlikely to be broken down before Li-Fi can become something used around the world, but the ambitious designers believe that solutions can be found within the next two decades.

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