Tripping the light fantastic with Li-Fi

Wireless fidelity, more commonly known as Wi-Fi, is one of the most remarkable technology advances of our times. It has enabled people with mobile devices to get online for work or play, at ever-increasing speeds, all over the world. From bars, cafes and shopping malls to office, homes, airports and sports stadia, no venue today is complete without the ubiquitous Wi-Fi.

But Wi-Fi might have a new competitor in the shape of Light Fidelity. Li-Fi is a wireless optical networking technology which utilizes light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to transmit data. It works by using modern LED lightbulbs – you probably have some of the energy-saving variety in your home or office - equipped with a chip which modulates light to enable optical data transmission, data which is then received by photoreceptors. So where Wi-Fi utilizes radio waves, Li-Fi runs on visible light. And it could be the next big thing in mobile data connectivity.

No new furniture and other benefits

One basic advantage of Li-Fi is that it makes use of something that has always been there – lighting fixtures and fittings. By deploying Li-Fi throughout all the lights in a building, coverage can be extended over a far wider area than from a single Wi-Fi router.

Another advantage of Li-Fi’s is capacity. Li-Fi is capable of speeds up to a massive 224 gigabits per second, and it also offers a lot more usable spectrum – up to 10,000 times that of radio - meaning Li-Fi can support much greater capacity and high data rates.

And thirdly, Li-Fi offers more secure data transmission than Wi-Fi, since data cannot be intercepted without having a clear line of sight with the LED bulb – which also means no piggybacking, or illegitimate or malicious access to the network.

The light versus radio waves factor comes into play again with interference – where Wi-Fi suffers from it, Li-Fi is unimpeded by either interference from neighboring networks or by radio static. Another plus point over Wi-Fi is that Li-Fi’s visible rays mean no health concerns, and because it does not create interference in sensitive electronics, Li-Fi presents a safe and viable option for use in hospitals and on board aeroplanes for example.

Where’s the catch?

As a new technology, naturally there are drawbacks and kinks to be ironed out. One major issue is that Li-Fi does require a clear line of sight, potentially making true mobility something of a challenge. And by its very nature Li-Fi requires you to leave the lights on all the time if you want connectivity.

How likely is Li-Fi to take off?

Rumours abound that the new Apple iPhone 7 will be Li-Fi-enabled, something which would almost certainly help Li-Fi adoption and kick it straight into the mainstream. An alternative to Wi-Fi has long been pondered and it seems possible that Li-Fi could provide an easy-to-manage solution. With over 5 billion mobile phones in circulation and 1.4 million cellular radio masts deployed around the world it makes sense to investigate new methods of connectivity to power our mobile lives. Whether or not Li-Fi can evolve to offer a carrier-grade service to service connectivity on a mass scale remains to be seen. But watch this space. 

Read more about Li-Fi in Real Times.


Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.