Thanks to the desire to make accessing the Internet a globally commonplace, Wi-Fi can be found everywhere, even in remote places such as Everest Base Camp. However, advances in technology have found that light signals (or Li-Fi) and not Wi-Fi could be the way we connect to the Internet in the near future.
While Li-Fi has been around since 2011, it may be closer to viability now than it was four years ago. The speeds of Li-Fi can reach 1 Gbps, about 100 times faster than standard Wi-Fi. The technology uses light communication via LEDs. That means downloading movies, music, games and apps could take seconds (as opposed to minutes or even hours on standard Wi-Fi). In ideal conditions, streaming movies would take place with no buffering, and online gaming may suffer from little to no lag.
“We are doing a few pilot projects within different industries where we can utilise the VLC (visible light communication) technology,” said Deepak Solanki, CEO of Velmenni, an Estonian tech company. “Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light. We are also doing a pilot project with a private client where we are setting up a Li-Fi network to access the Internet in their office space.”
Li-Fi could spell the end of an era. No longer would there be a need to run wires all over the house or office just to get a secure connection. There is a catch, however: Li-Fi cannot currently go through walls, giving it a limited range compared to Wi-Fi. This limited range also means added security, as one can easily get into a Wi-Fi network, and many appliances sit on the same frequency as routers, which causes interference. One could use current home or office lighting to project Li-Fi signals into the room.
Harald Haas, the inventor of Li-Fi and a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, told the International Business Times that Li-Fi can be placed onto current devices to blend in with the current system. “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. In the future we will not only have 14 billion light bulbs, we may have 14 billion Li-Fis deployed worldwide for a cleaner, greener and even brighter future.”
Haas gave a TED talk on Li-Fi, which has reportedly reached speeds of 224 Gbps in the lab. While this may not reflect what it would do in the real world because of numerous contributing factors, it will help relieve the pressures that currently affect Wi-Fi networks. One might remember attempting to connect to wireless networks in hotels or other crowded spaces (such as a mall), only to get no connection (or a slow one, if you could get one at all).
“One of the issues is capacity. The way we transmit wireless data is by using electromagnetic waves—in particular, radio waves. And radio waves are limited. They are scarce; they are expensive; and we only have a certain range of it. And it’s this limitation that doesn’t cope with the demand of wireless data transmissions and the number of bytes and data which are transmitted every month. And we are simply running out of spectrum,” Haas said.
Solanki shared Haas’s view that Li-Fi should complement and not replace current Wi-Fi systems. “It is very difficult to create a whole new infrastructure for Li-Fi so somehow we need integrate our system with the current system,” he said, stressing the need for the two to work together and play off of their respective strengths, making wireless connection even more reliable.