Li-Fi: Faster Internet with a Potential Reduced Carbon Footprint
After Estonian startup Velmenni successfully tested a commercial application of Li-Fi technology in their offices last month, many are wondering whether wi-fi is soon to become a thing of the past. Li-Fi is a method of delivering data which uses the visible light spectrum rather than radio waves. It requires a light source (such as an LED bulb), an internet connection, and a photo detector. The result is internet access that is 100 times faster than wi-fi, with speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. The technology was first introduced to the public by Professor Harald Haas in 2011, and pioneers like Velmenni are now starting to test it out.
Li-Fi offers a higher level of security, since a device must be in the same room as the router in order to connect. This could prevent strangers from connecting to the network and tracking online security. Since the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger than the radio waves used for traditional wi-fi, this solves the problem of the “spectrum crunch” we face today, where too many people are sharing a limited spectrum, resulting in slower connection speeds (especially in high-traffic areas like hotels, concert venues, and airports). For those who worry about EMF waves emitted by WiFi, Li-Fi could be a great alternative, since it does not use radio waves. It has the added benefit of saving energy (since we already need lighting), but these benefits could be outweighed by the fact that we would need to constantly leave lights on in order for Li-Fi to work – I’m looking forward to seeing what solutions can be thought of for this.
Growing up in Nuremberg, Harald Haas has always been fascinated by LEDs. He built a rev counter for his neighbors’ cars when he was just 13 years old, developed mobile phone chips as a young adult, and came to Edinburgh University in 1999, where he and Gordon Povey developed a patent for the 3G Universal Mobile Telecommunications system. Now, Haas has resurfaced his longtime fascination with LEDs to rethink the way we send and receive data. Though Alexander Graham Bell discovered it was possible to transmit information via light back in the 1880s, Hass was the first to apply this technology in order to deliver high-speed internet access. (Haas’ office, as it turns out, is now in the University’s Alexander Graham Bell building.) He coined the term Li-Fi during his 2011 TED talk.
Since demonstrating Li-Fi technology to the public in 2011, Haas has co-founded a company called pureLiFi Ltd, which started shipping its first fully wireless networking system, called Li-Flame, in the final quarter of 2014. Li-Flame turns LED light fixtures into wireless internet access points, turning Haas’ theory into a reality. The current prototype allows for solar panel integration, allowing for the production of sustainable electricity in addition to providing an internet connection. Given that current data links put significant burdens on carbon reduction efforts, Li-Fi could offer a sustainable alternative for data communication.
Future applications could include car-to-car communications for accident prevention, underwater networking, and enabling various household appliances and devices to be controlled by smartphones. Researchers believe that Li-Fi could bring high-speed internet access to rural areas and NASA has expressed interest in using Li-Fi to enhance the International Space Station’s internet connection. According to estimates by MarketsandMarkets, the Li-Fi market will be worth more than $6 billion by 2018, and the CEO of Velmenni says that Li-Fi technology will likely reach consumers in the next three or four years. Though certain factors, including interference from ambient lighting and the technology’s line-of-sight limitations, will require further research to make consumer applications feasible, the prospect of sustainable, high-speed internet reaching our homes is something to look forward to.