Is Li-Fi the next step of wireless technology evolution?

Do you know any other different wireless network than Wi-Fi? Well, this post is about Li-Fi or LIFI, a concept that will make people talk a lot about the new era of wireless connections. It’s an alternative to the well-known Wi-Fi concept. What is Li-Fi, how does it work, what advantages and disadvantages does it have compared to Wi-Fi, and what is the possible future that awaits us? Let’s analyze it then.

Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, was the first person to use the term “Li-Fi” during a TED Global Talk. At the conference, he spoke of an innovative idea: “Wireless data from lightbulbs.” Nevertheless, the term “visible light communication” has been used since 1880: it is the use of any portion of the electromagnetic spectrum of light in order to transmit information. On the other hand, Chinese researchers from the Institute of Technical Physics in Shanghai have successfully transmitted information from a remote network through light, instead of the traditional use of radio waves (wireless). Using a LED lamp emitting light of a watt, the team connected four computers to Internet thanks to this technology. They realized that a small bulb can achieve data streams up to one-hundred times faster than the regular speed of access.

Read also: Next generation of Wi-Fi: Good expectations for the future

The interest in developing this new wireless communication system is that it provides many advantages over traditional Wi-Fi networks. Because Visible Light Communications (VLC), another name for Li-Fi, only needs a light source (such as LED bulbs) instead of a radio frequency, a network connection and a detector to operate, almost any bulb could serve as a connection point. The defenders of this technology argue that the spectrum of light is more abundant than radio, unlicensed and that its use is actually free. In consequence, this new form of wireless technology would mean a possible help to solve a common problem in the use of Wi-Fi: the saturation of the wave frequency, directly related to the growing number of Internet connections.

A very positive fact is that Li-Fi technology is bidirectional. While visible light communication allows only unidirectional data transferences (and at low speed), Li-Fi offers greater stability and facilitates the connection of multiple devices to the same light source. Just like radio waves, visible light belongs to the electromagnetic spectrum. However, the spectrum of visible light is about ten thousand times greater than radio waves. What does this mean? In first place, Li-Fi has an enormous potential capacity; in second place, that instead of transmitting information through a data stream, visible light allows the transmission of the same information through the use of thousands data streams simultaneously. It will definitely change the whole picture in the coming years.

However, Li-Fi is not problems-free. The main issue to consider is that light can’t get through walls. “The range of signal range is limited to a single category, yet this is a breakthrough in telecommunications because it offers a greater safety for users. Li-Fi makes it very difficult to cybercriminals to intercept light signals,” says Don Burns, telecommunications executive and the founder of the Telco Communications Group, Inc.

The truth is that Li-Fi could help to transport information in a faster way. This is an issue of utmost importance from any point of view: After all, it’s expected that the amount of information that will travel in three years from now will be about 35 trillion bytes per month.

WiFi-LiFi-House_Donald Burns_internet connection_wireless_advances in communications
Image courtesy of Sam Churchill at Flickr.com

But the main advantage offered by this technology, more than speed, is the possibility to connect several signal transmitters in the same room without conflicts, while in the case of Wi-Fi it is inconvenient to locate two routers in the same place without causing a signal interference. Thus, this system will complement the traditional wireless and mobile networks by decongesting the 3G and 4G networks.

In the future, it will facilitate the access to Internet through the public lighting and it is perfect for carrying connections to areas where there are several sources of interference. It is also expected to offer users the access to Internet on airplanes or in large hospitals through LED lights, reducing the need for wiring.

The modulators that make this process possible, makes light turn on and off millions of times per second, producing the zeros and ones that encrypt binary data. It is imperceptible to human eyes, but it is not for a photodiode located on mobiles, tablets or other devices, which will be able to collect the light changes and then interpret them into information.

Moreover, the entire network that could light an entire house will be a great router with multiple connection points. Although Li-Fi technology may be applied to any device, it is mainly on smartphones where users will find its great potential: both inside and outside. That allows, in theory, the existence of simple, powerful and inexpensive networks that can reach every corner of a room through a light bulb in the ceiling.

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