Imagine a world where every light source can connect you to the internet. Sounds like a world of science fiction but the technology actually already exsits! It is called LiFi and it is the future of wireless connectivity.
LiFi stands for Light Fidelity and it’s a wireless optical networking technology that uses light-emitting diodes for data transmission. In other words, it’s a light-based Wi-Fi which uses light instead of radio waves to transmit information.
When a constant current is applied to a LED light, tiny packets of energy called photons are released which we see as visible light. Since LEDs are semiconductor devices, the current and optical output can be modulated at very high speeds. This is then detected by a photodetector device that converts it back to electric current. This is how LiFi technology uses LED to transmit data. This is conceptually similar to decoding Morse code but in a much faster rate.
Prof. Harald Haas has been labeled the Father of LiFi for his efforts in development of this technology. It was during his TED Global talk in 2011 that he brought LiFi into the public spotlight where he used a table lamp with a LED bulb to play video of a blooming flower that was then projected onto a screen. According to this TED talk, light fidelity can be applied in traffic control systems using a car’s headlights or in chemical manufacturing plants where radio frequency is too dangerous and could cause antenna sparks. LiFi will bring internet access in places that WiFi’s radio frequencies cannot reach.
“All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device and this would then combine two basic functionalities: illumination and wireless data transmission,” Haas said. “In the future, we will not only have 14 billion light bulbs, we may have 14 billion LiFis deployed worldwide for a cleaner, greener and even brighter future.”
Why Is LiFi Important?
Wireless data has become an essential commodity in our daily life. Wi-Fi is everywhere but sadly, we can’t use it forever. Radiofrequency, the technology that powers Wi-Fi, is running out of spectrum to support this digital revolution. More and more users use wireless connectivity with each passing year which brings us closer to a phenomenon called the spectrum crunch.
Spectrum crunch refers to the potential lack of sufficient wireless frequency spectrum needed to support a growing number of consumer devices. Spectrum crunch is a risk in telecommunications and wireless networking with profound implications for the immediate future.
In 2016 mobile data traffic grew by 63% which is an indication that it will continue to grow and almost half a billion (429 million) mobile devices and connections were added in the same year alone. By 2021 there will be 1.5 mobile devices per capita. There will be 11.6 billion mobile-connected devices by 2021, exceeding the world’s projected population at that time (7.8 billion).
Eventually, Wi-Fi will not be able to keep up with the demand of data and the world needs to future-proof our networks to fulfill the connectivity demands of tomorrow. With LiFi, we can utilize spectrum more than 1000 times greater than the entire spectrum used for radio frequencies. LiFi allows significantly more access points than WiFi’s radio frequencies, achieving the higher data rates necessary due to an ability to produce small cells necessary for faster connectivity.
According to Haas, “If you look at the Internet of Things, traditional WiFi will be massively inefficient when there are so many devices interacting in one area. The networking ability to integrate with mobile is a groundbreaking development in LiFi, one that is characterized by the speed of data transfer and the continuing miniaturization process.”
According to pureLiFi, the company responsible for its advancement and commercialization, the applications of this technology is limitless and will extend the capabilities of Wi-Fi communication even beyond our imagination. It can be used in the military since it’s secure and data can’t be intercepted by outside hackers. LiFi can also be used in extremely remote locations and requires no complicated wirings. Wi-Fi can’t be used underwater because radio waves get absorbed by the water but light can penetrate deep waters. This means that LiFi can be applied for underwater communication potentially changing the way underwater vehicles and divers communicate with each other.
The Pros of LiFi
Aside from it saving the world from spectrum crunch, LiFi comes with a lot of other benefits. Here are its major advantages:
Light waves are able to carry far more information than radio waves used in Wi-Fi technology since the visible light spectrum is almost 10,000 times larger than the spectrum occupied by radio waves. This is why data transmission using LiFi is 100 times faster than data transmission using Wi-Fi. LiFi connection can transmit data at the rate of 224 GB per second. At this speed, a high-definition video can be downloaded in seconds!
LiFi holds the potential to be more energy efficient and cheaper due to the nature of LED bulbs which are already efficient on their own. LiFi technology gives them another purpose, connectivity. This will save costs in homes and workplaces because it could do without electronic devices such as routers, modems, signal repeaters, wave amplifiers, and antennas. These devices have to be connected to power 24/7 in order for them to function. The fact that a lot of infrastructures probably has LED lights already in place, using LiFi would not be an extra cost. On top of that, pureLiFi is also developing solar cells as photodetectors to enable wireless battery charging and wireless Internet simultaneously.
Radio waves can be intercepted by people outside your network since they can pass through walls compromising the security of your data. But light is stopped by opaque objects making LiFi significantly more secure than other wireless technologies. You won’t have to worry about leaking your connection to public spaces potentially giving other people access to your network. Some rooms could even be designated as high-security areas with their own LiFi networks, isolating them from other areas of the building where vulnerable IoT devices might be connected.
With LiFi, every source of light can connect you to the internet. In the near future when the technology is already available to the general public, street lights, building lights, and transportation lighting can all communicate wirelessly and you can access the internet wherever you may be.
The Cons of LiFi
LiFi is fast, secure and efficient. It seems that it can do no wrong but nothing is perfect, including LiFi. So, what’s the catch?
The fact that light can’t penetrate through walls might be a good thing when it comes to security but this also means that LiFi has a very limited range. That means you can only use it effectively in closed spaces. In establishments, lights must be tactically placed in rooms, and halls to expand the scope of the LiFi network. In open spaces, Wi-Fi’s coverage can go up to 32 meters but LiFi can only go up to 10 meters.
Since LiFi is a new technology, not many devices are compatible with it. Most devices that we use now still use hardware for Wi-Fi networking and it’s unlikely that we will see LiFi enabled personal devices in the next couple of years.
Not the answer to slow internet speeds
LiFi does have a faster data transfer rate but if the Internet speed from service providers are still slow, the best aspect of this technology remains insignificant. In countries that have slower internet speeds, deploying a LiFi network would be meaningless. It will take coordination from various industries to encourage mass implementation of this technology.
There are varying answers to the question of how soon LiFi hits the mainstream market. Some industry insiders say ten, others say fifteen – some even predicted that we are able to enjoy LiFi in the next five years! No matter how many years it really is, one thing is for certain: LiFi is coming. In fact, according to Energias Market Research, the LiFi market is expected to reach over $80 Million in 2023.
As of now, LiFi cannot fully replace Wi-Fi as a connectivity source but in the future, pureLifi is developing it to be the dominant internet connectivity technology in the whole world. Recently, Astronics Corporation, a leading provider of advanced technologies for the global aerospace, defense, and semiconductor industries, demonstrated how LiFi can improve an aircraft’s passenger experience and operational efficiency at the NBAA event in Orlando on October 18, 2018. This was the second demonstration of the company using LiFi and both were massive successes.
“This is a brand new technology and we are exploring ways in which it can improve the passenger, and even crew, experience on an aircraft in terms of connectivity,” said Mark Schwartz, Vice President of PDT, and an Astronics Company. ”LiFi may be a future passenger experience delighter and we are excited to explore and discuss these possibilities with it.”