LiFi and the Internet of Things

Why and how LiFi is needed for the Internet of Things (IOT)

IoT and LiFi – an Overview

The Internet of Things is a holistic system of networks, devices, and computers with unique identifiers that are interconnected. They have the capacity to transport data to and from various terminals without the need for interaction between human and human or human and computer. In the present-age tech-driven world where digitalization has become the buzzword for businesses, the Internet of Things has evolved as a revolutionary advancement that is fostering connectivity, communication, and information sharing between various on-premise and remote terminals at a more enhanced level to interact with their internal, as well as external, environments.

A more succinct definition has been provided by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which defines the Internet of Things as:
A global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on, existing and evolving, interoperable information and communication technologies.

The ambit of such devices include security systems, cars, thermostats, lights and electronic gadgets in both commercial and domestic environments; it could also include vending machines, speaker systems, alarm clocks, and much more. At an organizational level, the Internet of Things incorporates different work systems, servers, networks, databases, records, terminals, and communication gateways.

The IoT holds a huge potential for businesses, especially in terms of streamlining and optimizing operations. It also allows a more enhanced tracking control by automating safety protocols so that authorities are automatically notified when, say, a fire extinguisher is blocked in a building, or when an intruder is trying to access your confidential data records. It also makes it convenient for businesses to perform real-world A/B testing by using linked cameras and sensor to assess the engagement of the customers with their products.

As is evident, the current technological infrastructure is being increasingly strained by the gigantic demand for data transmissions and the extremely high, seamless, and reliable Wi-Fi capacity needed for that transmission. By 2019, the number of mobile devices being used globally is expected to reach more than ten billion, and likewise, these handheld devices alone will generate a humongous 1018 terabytes of data every month. Now, factor in the data generated and shared by IoT devices, big data servers, and traditional computers, it is evident that the increasing demand for faster and more secure data sharing networks and connections will only put more strain on the current technology being used in business organizations worldwide.

However, the good news is: technology is evolving at a pace two steps ahead of the demand. A recent discovery has been made which provides a solution (in progress) towards the above mentioned technological strain. Scientists have found a method of information transfer that is 100 times faster than conventional WiFi. The method only requires an electromagnetic trigger to initiate the data transfer. The technology that utilizes this method is named as LiFi – an abbreviation of Light Fidelity. This wireless communication technology uses the visible light spectrum (as well as the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums, if needed) for high-speed data transfer between devices, terminals, and servers.

However, the only difference which amounts to various operational differences between the LiFi and Wi-Fi is that the latter is dependent on radio frequency to transfer data while the former can do so through light radiations – for instance, through LED lamps. This difference sets LiFi apart in terms of its potential, as to what can be achieved through it. Because LiFi relies on the visible light spectrum, it provides faster transmission speeds, higher bandwidth, and the ability to work in spaces that are vulnerable to electromagnetic interference, such as airplanes, hospitals, or highly-sensitive industries such as the petroleum industry.

Challenges for IoT Connectivity

For the IoT devices to function effectively, they must first be able to fulfill three fundamental requirements: they must be able to detect information, they must process that information, and they must be able to interconnect with other devices. These requirements often turn out to be a hurdle for the full-fledged, effective implementation of IoT technology as they create various challenges that make it difficult to meet these requirements. These challenges include:

Ensuring reliable, bidirectional communication: The first challenge often faced by the implementation of IoT is ensuring reliable and bidirectional signaling, which is crucial for IoT devices to render an easy data route. Signaling has to be seamless to ensure fast, secure, and reliable data transfer between point A and B. In order to overcome this issue, a reliable, bi-directional medium of communication is necessary – one that not only allows the data source to transport information but also to receive information, as well.

Ensuring a secure data connection between IoT devices: The second challenge is ensuring that the connectivity between IoT devices is secure. While it was originally touted as a hyper-secure network, the IoT’s most significant security concern is its connectivity with the cloud, making it less suitable for storing and transmitting confidential datasets. That is why it is essential for data transfer to be initiated only after the authorization by the main IoT server. In order to ascertain the authorization, end-to-end encryption is crucial.

The ubiquitous detection of IoT devices: The IoT is supposed to be a ubiquitous network whereby a connected or dropped-off IoT device is detected in real-time. The Ubiquitous Detection is a means through which the status of all the devices in the network could be identified and any issue, or loop in the network can be tracked and resolved in real time. For obvious reasons, this ubiquitous detection itself comes as a challenge for effective implementation of IoT.

The immense need for power: The fourth challenge facing the IoT is the immense power consumption. Effective, seamless, and real-time communication requires an efficient cellular system that has prolonged battery life and has a smart detector embedded into the IoT device.

The connectivity between various devices: The fifth challenge that seems to face the IoT is its connectivity itself. At present, connectivity relies on a centralized, server/client paradigm for the authentication, authorization, and connection of different nodes in a network. Such a paradigm should be sufficient for the current IoT landscape where only a handful of devices are involved. However, for future networks involving, perhaps, millions of devices, centralized systems will only turn into a bottleneck.

The compatibility and longevity of IoT devices: The last, but certainly not the least, challenge faced by the IoT is the compatibility of devices with each other. That is because as IoT grows in many different directions and with many different technologies from different manufacturers with no current standard in place, many difficulties arise requiring the deployment of extra hardware and software because of compatibility issues. This eventually causes such devices to become obsolete in the future.

The future beckons a growth in the usage of IoT devices which would present a seventh challenge for IoT connectivity – and that is, the increased consumption of bandwidth.

Drawbacks in LiFi Technology

There are shortcomings for every technology and this is no different with LiFi technology. It is said that a LiFi device won’t be able to receive signals during bright daylight. And that the signals can also be easily impeded by any physical object, like walls. These are some basic limitations of the LiFi technology that often lead to bigger problems.

However, there are solutions present as well. For instance, LiFi could be used in tandem with WiFi to ensure a smooth data transfer. It is said that at present, the LiFi cannot make up as a “substitute” for WiFi, but research is being conducted to make it more effective. The limitations can also be countered by using smart architecture technologies which will guide the light to follow the user. Further algorithms are being developed that will determine the light spectrum and will provide efficient data transfer.

LiFi’s Compatibility with IoT

LiFi can be effectively implemented in various domains such as medicine, life sciences and healthcare since it does not cause an electromagnetic reaction, as compared to WiFi. Moreover, LiFi is more secure since it cannot be interfered with, even across the walls, which will ensure a secure data stream. However, it also means that people living in the same house but across different rooms won’t be able to connect to the same network.

LiFi incorporates direct modulation and relatively less expensive components such as photodetectors and LEDs. Therefore, with LiFi, any LED light can be transformed into a high-speed data transmitter. The IoT devices can be made compatible and in-sync with LiFi, for a more enhanced functioning. LiFi can conveniently accommodate multiple access points, as is required by IoT connectivity, by using simple light bulbs as terminals.

Researchers are focusing on LiFi as a viable solution for the rapid growth of IoT and Big data, and are working on developing smarter, faster and more reliable methods of data transmission. The efficacy of these technologies is entrenched into the efficiency of the network that supports them. Therefore, LiFi could be deemed as an enhancement for the workability of IoT devices, and as a means to leverage their optimum potential.

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