Meet Li-Fi: 100 Times Faster Internet Than Wi-Fi!

What if every light bulb in the world could also transmit data?Since 2011, Mobile communications professor Harald Haas from University of Edinburgh has been working on his theory that the data could be transmitted via the visible light spectrum, using LED light bulbs in homes.Now the technology known as Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) is a reality and it reportedly produces a connection that is up to 100 times faster than WiFi.

Li-Fi is essentially the same as Wi-Fi, except for a small difference—it uses LED lights around us to transmit the data wirelessly as opposed to using radio.

Li-Fi transmits data using LED lights, which flicker on and off within nanoseconds, imperceptible to the human eye.  When Haas first started looking at alternative wireless systems, LED bulbs were becoming more widespread in homes, thanks to their energy savings over traditional incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs are controlled by a driver, which can rapidly dim the light or turn it on or off.

Could Li-Fi takeover from Wi-Fi?

Traditional Wi-Fi uses radio signals to transmit data to devices, such as phones and laptops. Currently, Wi-Fi carries about half of the world’s internet transmissions. This percentage is expected to grow in coming years as more people get online and as the “Internet of Things” (objects with internet connectivity, from remotely programmable coffee makers to smart cars) expands. Some experts, including Haas, worry that this will create a so-called “spectrum crunch,” where Wi-Fi networks slow under heavy demand.

Li-Fi uses visible light communication like the 'digital equivalent of Morse code,' so it cannot pass through walls. This gives it the potential to create a faster network, with less interference.

Li-Fi stands to be much faster than Wi-Fi. In recent experiments, researchers have been able to reach Li-Fi speeds as fast as 224 gigabits per second. At these speeds, a person could download nearly 20 full-length movies in a single second. 

The idea of transmitting data through the visible light spectrum is not new.

Alexander Graham Bell transmitted sound via a beam of sunlight in 1880 using a photophone, a sort of solar-powered wireless telephone. 

Unlike Wi-Fi signals which can penetrate walls, Li-Fi is based on light, therefore potentially more secure from external sniffing.

In addition to being faster than Wi-Fi, Li-Fi will be more secure, Haas says. While Wi-Fi signals can pass through walls (allowing your neighbors to “share” your connection), home Li-Fi signals can be kept indoors by drawing the curtains. 

Instead of replacing Wi-Fi altogether in the years to come, researchers are working on retrofitting current devices to be Li-Fi compatible.

The system isn't likely to replace Wi-Fi entirely in the years to come, and ripping out the existing infrastructure isn't feasible. But the two could be used in partnership to create faster and safer networks.

What Li-Fi can contribute to IoT?

Internet of Things (IoT), is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as "smart devices"), buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.

Now, Li-Fi may not be a far off reality…

Deepak Solanki, the founder and chief executive of Estonian firm Velmenni which tested Li-Fi in an industrial space last year, told AFP he expected that 'two years down the line the technology can be commercialized and people can see its use at different levels.'

Haas also set up a company called pureLiFi which began selling its first products late last year.

The company has been relatively quick to market. However, the scope and ambition of pureLiFi seems to pale in comparison to the likes of other companies around the globe which have been competing to build and develop this technology. Big names like Franhofer Telecommunications in Germany as well as Disney and NASA in the USA are all working on the technology and its applications.