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Li-Fi: Lighting the Future of Wireless Networks

By Brian Sebele

Light Fidelity, Li-Fi, is a relatively new form of wireless communication technology. It uses light signals to communicate data. The excitement surrounding Li-Fi is because it has proven to have higher speeds than Wi-Fi. In the lab, Li-Fi has reached speeds of 224 gigabits per second. The same lab field tested Li-Fi technology in a factory based in Estonia and achieved transmission rates at 1 gigabit per second.

Li-Fi uses LED lights to transmit data to devices

Source: Boston University and Science Alert

Li-Fi was introduced to the world by Professor Harald Hass at a 2011 TED Talk. He wanted to turn the world’s light bulbs into wireless routers. Soon after the TED Talk, in 2012, he launched Pure Li-Fi to lead the Li-Fi product development. Pure Li-Fi is a company that develops Li-Fi devices. The Li-Fi Consortium was also formed with the aim of sharing information and developing the technology. The Li-Fi Consortium is an open non-profit organization — any organization can license their technology or partner with them. There are no membership fees to join the consortium.

“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.” Harald Hass Ted Talk 2011.

Herald Hass has proved that data can be transmitted over the light spectrum — this makes Li-Fi a form of optical wireless communication. Li-Fi uses infra-red and ultra-violet (visible light) waves to communicate data. Infra-red and ultra-violet spectrums can carry more information than radio frequency waves. This is why Li-Fi can achieve greater speeds than Wi-Fi.

Currently, Li-Fi technology is focused on using the light from light-emitting diodes (LEDS) to communicate data. LEDs have become very popular around the world for their efficiency, low environmental impact, and longevity. The LED lights in homes and offices can be turned into wireless routers. LED light bulbs are a semiconductor light source, therefore, the constant electricity supply to the bulb can be altered to make it brighter or dimmer. Using visible light communication (VLC) the current in the LED bulb is flicked on and off at very high rate. Think of it like a complex Morse code involving 1s and 0s. The flicking will happen at a speed too fast for the human eye to notice, so humans and animals will not be impacted. Li-Fi will continue after you have switched the lights off because the LEDs will be lit and signaling at a low light level that cannot be recognized by the human eye. To access the Li-Fi network you simply need a device to detect the light signals, with a component to decipher the light signals.

Wi-Fi uses radio frequency waves, a technology which has limited space and is quickly reaching its capacity. The limited capacity is why the radio frequency spectrum is heavily regulated in the US. One of the most endearing facets of Li-Fi is that it uses the visible light spectrum. The visible light spectrum is 10 000 times larger than the radio frequency spectrum and is unregulated. So you don’t need a license to take advantage of the light spectrum.

Another upside to Li-Fi is that it uses light spectrum and not radio frequency. Therefore, it emits no electromagnetic interference. This makes it more suitable for highly sensitive areas. Electromagnetic interference can affect communication in areas like mines or disrupt sensitive equipment in places like hospitals.

How It Works

Data is fed into an LED light bulb which is fitted with signal processing technology. The LED bulb pulses the data at a high non-visible rate to the photodetector. The pulses are interpreted by the receiver into an electrical signal, the electronic signal is then converted back to binary data which is the web content we consume. The LED lights will be networked, so multiple users can access data using a single LED light or move from one LED light to another without affecting their access.

How Li-Fi Works

Source: Pure Li-Fi

From the beginning, Professor Harald Haass wanted to build a wireless technology that could fit into everyday life. He didn’t want a technology that would need to be heavily retrofitted into our lives, which would drive up the cost and complexity of uptake. Through Pure Li-Fi and others like the Li-Fi Consortium, solutions have been built that fit relatively easily into our lives. Pure Li-Fi built a home solution, LiFi-X, wherein the user can buy a brick sized module that connects to their LED light bulb and a device like a laptop or desktop can receive the data through a USB dongle. Very simple to set up.

LiFi-X

Source: Pure Li-Fi

Although Li-Fi has faster speeds than Wi-Fi, it has a very short range. The further away you are from the light source, the slower the speed. That being said, you don’t necessarily need to be under the LED light to access Li-Fi because it can use light reflections on surfaces, including walls, to achieve speeds averaging 70 MB/s. Unlike Wi-Fi, Li-Fi cannot penetrate walls because it uses light spectrum. Although not being able to penetrate walls limits the range of Li-Fi, it also makes the technology much more secure. It ensures that users can limit the area of accessibility. The security aspect of Li-Fi has both technology and defence firms very interested.

Due to the speeds that Li-Fi can reach, and its spatial limits, the technology will work well alongside cellular and Wi-Fi technology as an additional option for connectivity. Li-Fi can be used to syphon off heavy traffic from cellular and Wi-Fi networks. For example, Li-Fi can be made available in densely populated areas like a shopping mall or sports stadium, allowing users to consume content rich media like videos or live streaming. As the users will be on the Li-Fi network, this will free up cellular and Wi-Fi network capacity in that area. This is because the uplinks require little capacity — it is the downlinks that strain the networks. This technology will soon have quite a fascinating install base as Dubai plans soon be the first city to fit its street lights with Li-Fi. The lamps are said to have cost Dubai $1000 each.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a revolution that has a lot of experts asking, where will we find the capacity to handle all that data? Li-Fi has proven itself as a viable, efficient and secure solution. A home, office or factory could run its own high capacity network over Li-Fi without adversely affecting public capacity.

  • http://www.cactuscoding.com CactusCoding.com

    Wow ! This article is pretty good… I will wait until the Li-Fi will be cheaper and then I will buy it for 100%. Thanks Brian

    • Brian

      You are most welcome Cactus Coding. Thanks for reading

  • http://herbied.edublogs.org Herbert H Dupree II

    Sounds to me that LiFi could be a replacement to or potentially merge with Bluetooth, as both services are high-speed and short range. Needs OS support, such as Android, Windows, and iOS for it to take off, as it uses different transceivers than radio frequencies such as WiFi and cellular.

    • Brian

      You could be right Herbert. Uptake will depend on the manufacturers capacity to get the devices out there

  • Brian

    Hi Vipin. I didnt say he invented it. The concept of using light for data transfer has been around even longer than that. Harald Haas is the latest to bring it to the fore. I read the article you referenced. Thanks for reading my article and engaging

    • https://www.whatafuture.com Shabaz Khan

      Your article is amazing. Thanks for sharing. I read Vipin’s article too. It’s really interesting to know that Li-Fi is actually a decade old technology which came in notice in recent past.

      • Brian

        Thanks for reading the article Shabaz, glad you enjoyed it

  • Brian

    Most of the work is in D&D phase, products are yet to be mass produced. I read your article, Hewlett Packard sounds serious about it

  • Mr. Dohickey

    This has the same problem as satellite internet, it is uni-directional. You can only RECEIVE signals using it. Not going anywhere unless they make it bi-directional.

    • http://herbied.edublogs.org Herbert H Dupree II

      What I don’t understand is that if what you say is true, why would HPE want anything to do with this? Server communication has to be bi-directional otherwise its DOA and worthless.

    • Brian

      I think you need to explain what you mean by unidirectional Mr Dohickey (nice name hey). As for Li-Fi it can send and receive signals if that is your worry.

      • Mr. Dohickey

        So, you are saying that there is both a transmitter AND receiver in the light bulb?

        • Brian

          Not in the light bulb, in the device that attaches to the LED bulb. The device then uses current fluctuations to switch the LED bulb on and off, and thats the signal. Its wireless communication using light signals

    • https://www.whatafuture.com Shabaz Khan

      It is not unidirectional. The li-fi device comes equipped with both LED and photo receiver making lifi a two-way communication method. However, this questions the fact of using existing LEDs with Li-Fi as many companies are claiming.

  • Bfonics Global

    Great Post, issue that could potentially affect whether or not Li-Fi is actually feasible for beacon technology is it’s range. Now, the typical range of Bluetooth low energy radio module (BLE technology) is up to 70m (230ft) , while in the case of Li-Fi, you can receive the data as you are in the range of the light being emitted from an LED light source. So, the range depends on the strength of the light which is being emitted and of course, cost is one of the biggest factors as well and even in this regard, Li-Fi takes the cake. While a beacon would cost anywhere between $10-$70, the cost of beacon system depends on a number of other factors such as app and integration cost, licensing and data service cost.Since Li-Fi can work with the existing LED devices, the installation cost is much less.

    • Brian

      You are right Bfonics, range is limited by light emitted by the bulb. But you can have multiple bulbs around the home or office emitting light so you wont be affected as much while indoors. Although you should also note that this also makes it more secure, coz outsiders will find it harder to hack into your system.

  • Brian

    You are right Shabazz. For now it will used by specialists. Hospitals and mines that dont want electromagnetic interuption and IT companies that want greater security. In time, after much development, LiFi will probably great for the coming world of IoT

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