LiFi (short for Light Fidelity) is the newest technology regarding wireless connectivity that promises to deliver data speeds that is way faster than what the world is currently experiencing right now. It also promises to be more secure as well as being more efficient than typical wireless technologies.
But what is it really?
According to pureLiFi, a company working on the research, development and commercialization of LiFi, LiFi is high speed bi-directional networked and mobile communication of data using light. LiFi comprises of multiple light bulbs that form a wireless network, offering a substantially similar user experience to Wi-Fi except using the light spectrum.
The term LiFi was coined by professor Harald Haas, pureLiFi’s Chief Strategy Officer, and co-founder when he demonstrated LiFi for the first time during his TedGlobal Talk back in 2011. He explained that installing a microchip to ordinary LED bulbs allows them to flicker the light at a frequency of millions of times per second. In this way, LED bulbs can rapidly transfer binary coded information. But since this flickering is very fast, it is not visible and can only be detected by the light-sensitive receiver. The concept is similar to sending Morse code only much faster.
“My greatest vision is that light bulbs will become broadband communications equipment so that the light bulb is not only able to provide lighting and will also become a necessary tool,” Haas said.
Since LiFi is a new technology, a lot of misconceptions arise. The following are the most common ones:
LiFi won’t work in the dark
Since data is transmitted through light, then that must mean that LiFi won’t work in the dark, right? Not necessarily. If the light is completely turned off, there is no LiFi. But LiFi enabled LED lights can be dimmed low enough that a room will appear dark and still transmit data. There is consistent performance between 10 and 90 percent illumination. Currently, LiFi can still effectively perform at light levels down to 60 Lux.
LiFi won’t work in sunlight
A lot of people seem to think that if a LiFi user is under direct sunlight, it would be difficult for the device the user is carrying to detect LiFi waves due to higher intensity of light coming from the sun. However, LiFi can fully operate in daylight. LiFi detects the fast changes in light intensity and not on the absolute or slowly varying levels cause by natural disruptions in sunlight. It modulates the light at very high rates and sunlight is constant light and therefore can be filtered out at the receiver. pureLiFi ran tests with their receivers outdoors under 77,000 Lux of sunlight and they worked perfectly fine.
LiFi interferes with radio frequency
Wi-Fi uses radio frequency technology in order to provide network connectivity whereas LiFi uses the visible light spectrum. Since, light and sound operate in different frequencies, using Wi-Fi and LiFi together would not create an interference. This is also the reason why LiFi can be used in planes, hospitals and power plants without the fear of interference from radio frequency devices.
LiFi is not affordable for the average consumer
LiFi is already being used by airlines and corporations to improve their internet connectivity but the technology is not yet available to the general public leaving a lot of people to wonder if it the average consumer can actually afford it. It’s difficult to say how much it actually costs because the companies that have been testing and trying LiFi technology have not clearly stated the cost of implementing it. However, pureLiFi is working towards the miniaturization of LiFi products in order to make it affordable for everyone. The goal of the company is for the end consumer is to see minimal cost associated with LiFi.
Lights used in LiFi have a short lifespan
A LiFi enabled LED bulb will function like a normal one and LiFi will not shorten its lifespan. Generally, LEDs have a life expectancy of 50, 000 hours. If used 10 hours a day, they would last up to 13.7 years.
LiFi is not a bi-directional technology
Critics have claimed that LiFi has excellent downlink speeds but poor when it comes to its uplink performance. This claim have been proven to be false by the companies developing LiFi and have proven that the technology can be used for transmission in either direction. pureLiFi defines LiFi as a bidirectional wireless communications technology that allow high-speed transmission in both uplink and downlink simultaneously.
Special LEDs are needed for LiFi
LEDs that have specialized characteristics for LiFi would be great but the bulbs that are currently available in the market are sold for illumination purposes only and communications performance is not even a consideration. That means that the lighting industry is unlikely to manufacture LED lights that are specially made for LiFi technology. However, LiFi still performs excellently using regular LED bulbs. When LiFi becomes a significant proponent of the lighting industry, it is only then that we can expect specifications for these devices.
LiFi is a Line-of-Sight technology
Line of sight is a type of propagation that can transmit and receive data only where transmit and receive stations are in view of each other without any sort of an obstacle between them. Since light bounces off of surfaces, this means that LiFi is not strictly a line-of-sight technology. Of course, being in direct light is a definite advantage because the signal will be stronger but the light will also bounce off of walls and other objects and that reflection can also be used in data transmission.
LiFi is a disruptive technology
First off, let us examine what a disruptive technology is. A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry. For example, social networking has had a major impact on the way we communicate and has disrupted telephone, email, instant messaging and event planning. Another example is cloud computing, which is considered to be a hugely disruptive technology in the business world, displacing many resources that would conventionally have been located in-house. LiFi is considered to be a disruptive technology relative to Wi-Fi but this is not the case. LiFi is complementary to Wi-Fi, in the same way as Wi-Fi is seen as complementary to cellular data. It can work in conjunction with existing Wi-Fi networks to provide faster and more secure internet connections.
What companies are developing LiFi?
The fact that pureLiFi is the only company developing LiFi technology is another common misconception. pureLiFi is the company that brought the technology to the public spotlight but they are not the first company to have worked on it. The first patent of LiFi was assigned to Huawei – a Chinese multinational networking, telecommunications equipment, and services company – in 2006 which signifies that Huawei was working on LiFi five years before Harald Haas. Currently, most of the patents in LiFi belongs to Samsung which means that the electronics company is working on launching LiFi enabled devices in the near future. Patents are also owned by universities working in this technology and University of Edinburgh leads the list which comes to no surprise since Prof. Harald Haas started his research on LiFi there. Aside from the University of Edinburgh, ETRI, a South Korean University, is also developing the technology and have 5 patents.
However, even if there are many companies and universities working on developing the LiFi technology, pureLiFi is the leading company responsible for its commercialization.
In 2013, the Li-1st marked the introduction of a groundbreaking wireless communication technology. This system became the world’s first LiFi technology available on the market. Then in 2015, the Li-Flame was revealed at Mobile World Congress and was the first LiFi product that allowed for mobile wireless communications. The following year, LiFi-X was released and was the world’s first LiFi dongle which provided downlink and uplink speeds of 42Mbps. In October 2017, the company revealed their latest product: the LiFi-XC which is three times smaller than the previous generation and provides high-speed, bi-directional, fully networked and secure wireless communications through light. It is small enough to be integrated into laptops, tablets and smart appliances.
“Over the past year, we have been driving adoption of LiFi and deploying real-world applications of LiFi for our customers globally. We have now reached the point in miniaturization where we will see LiFi move beyond the dongle and be integrated. The LiFi-XC is a big step towards getting this disruptive technology into every bulb and every mobile device” Alistair Banham, CEO of pureLiFi commented.
LiFi technology still has a long way to go before worldwide adoption but every year, we are getting nearer to enjoying it for ourselves. The future surely looks bright with LiFi.