Trials demonstrating the power and speed of LiFi technology have been successfully conducted in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. The trials were a project of 5G RuralFirst, a co-innovation project spearheaded by tech giant Cisco and funded in part by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS).
Citing the results of a 2017 Which? study, which saw Orkney at the bottom of a list of 389 rural towns with the slowest broadband internet connection speeds, 5G RuralFirst chose Orkney as the setting for its LiFi trial. The tests showed promising results as the group was able to successfully demonstrate the power of visible light through LiFi. The breakthrough spells good news for small towns around the world who have little to no access to high-speed internet connectivity.
The UK Internet Connection Gap
A study conducted by consumer protection watchdog Which? in 2017 looked at the broadband connection speeds of 389 rural communities across the entire UK. According to the study, Orkney was found to have the worst broadband internet speeds with an average test speed of 6.3 Megabits/sec, with the Shetland Islands and Highland coming in second and third-worst with an average speed of 8.4 Mbps and 8.8 Mbps, respectively.
The results of the study revealed the sorry state of internet connections in rural UK areas, which were far below the minimum download speed proposed by the government’s Universal Services Obligation (USO). Under USO, anyone in the UK is entitled to request minimum guaranteed internet connection speeds of 10 Mbps.
Responding to the figures in the report, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur expressed his continued support as he called for a renewed commitment to delivering superfast broadband in the country.
“While I recognize progress has been made, these figures reaffirm our fears that the gap in broadband speeds between Orkney and the rest of the UK is growing,” McCartney stated while commenting on the figures. “This digital divide will only make it harder for Orkney to compete and leaves people with an unacceptable below par service.”
“I firmly believe that closing those gaps must be our priority,” he added. “This may require different technology solutions, but it will also certainly require both the Scottish and UK Government and their agencies to work together.”
LiFi Connectivity in Rural Communities
In speaking about the state of internet connectivity in Orkney, Prof. Harald Haas was quoted as saying: “Graemsay is in a complex position in terms of upgrading connectivity in the area, with just a copper landline to connect its residents and businesses,” said the Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of pureLiFi. “LiFi allows the area to utilize the light spectrum in two important domains: affordable last-mile connectivity, and high-speed indoor wireless networking.”
“Both are essential to overcome the rural divide, which increasingly disadvantages rural communities,” Haas added. “Graemsay is the first location, which harnesses ordinary solar panels as outdoor broadband detectors and ordinary LED lamps in homes as wireless access points and can now take advantage of advanced connectivity like never before.”
Commenting on the results of the LiFi tests in Orkney, 5G RuralFirst project Chief Technology Officer and Cisco Business Development Manager for global service provider Dez O’Connor stated: “LiFi is a particularly sustainable solution to provide wireless connectivity and can be managed by residents themselves and combined with existing networks.”
O’Connor added: “as well as demonstrating the potential of advanced 5G technology to bridge the digital divide and better connect rural areas, 5G RuralFirst is trialing different technologies such as Li-Fi to solve the challenges posed by remote environments.”
LiFi is a form of visible light communications (VLC) technology that allows data connectivity using light. But LiFi is unique from other VLC systems. It is the only VLC system that allows the bidirectional transfer of data similar to WiFi. But instead of radio waves, it uses visible light emitted by light-emitting diodes (LED) to allow the bidirectional transmission of data.
In LiFi, LED bulbs are outfitted with a special chip and act as transmitters. They transmit data by rapidly changing the intensity of the light at speeds unperceivable by the human eye. The receiving device then uses a dongle to receive data from the transmitter.
LiFi is poised to be the next disruptive technology, capable of transforming the way we see light and making an impact in numerous industries. It can drive Industry 4.0, improve healthcare, improve the efficiency of our transportation sector, unlock the Internet of Things (IoT), or even create a safe, fully-networked environment in high-risk areas such as airplanes and sensitive industries. The applications for LiFi are endless.
About 5G RuralFirst
5G RuralFirst is a co-innovation project led by Cisco alongside principal partner the University of Strathclyde and a consortium of other partners from across business, government, and academia. Its first goal is to create rural test-beds and trials for 5G wireless and mobile connectivity across three main sites in the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset.
The project is part-funded by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS) as part of their wider 5G Testbed and Trial program for UK-wide 5G strategy. Our project pioneers new approaches to the deployment of connectivity in rural areas, empowering organizations and communities and working to evolve more efficient business models for nation-critical industries that operate in rural environments, such as agriculture, tourism, renewable energy, and manufacturing.
Trialing 5G in some of the most remote and challenging environments in the UK, 5G RuralFirst aims to excite governments, policymakers, regulators mobile network operators, and other service providers about the partnership potential of 5G in rural areas and help share new market, technology, and application opportunities. 5G RuralFirst will encourage more longer-term investment, as well as engaging rural communities in how 5G could benefit them, personally and professionally.