The Lightbulbs in Your Home Could Make Your Internet 100 Times Faster

November 30, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

LED lights
Photo credit: Kevin Pham/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sorry Wi-Fi, there’s a new wireless technology in town.

If you have ever complained about your internet connection being too slow, there is a new technology you need to know about.  Its name? Li-Fi.  Li-Fi is a new Wi-Fi technology that transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC).

Researchers at the University of Oxford have reached a new milestone in networking, achieving speeds of 224 gigabits per second (Gbps) using this Li-Fi technology.  This is incredible considering only recently have 100 Gbps fibre optic cables become a reality.

Given the remarkable results, scientists are taking Li-Fi out of the lab for the first time and testing its use in offices and industrial environments in Tallinn, Estonia.  They believe Li-Fi could achieve data transmission at 1GB per second — that is 100 times faster than current average Wi-Fi speeds.  Li-Fi is being developed as a potential alternative to Wi-Fi.

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"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 Estonian tech company, Velmenni.

Li-Fi was invented in 2011 by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The technology uses visible light communication (VLC) — a medium that uses visible light between 400 and 800 terahertz (THz).  By flickering lights on and off at extreme speeds, the pattern created can be used like Morse code, and transmit information in binary code.  The flickering is so fast that it is not visible to the naked eye.

Another benefit to Li-Fi (other than fast speeds) is that light cannot pass through walls, making it a lot more secure and reducing the chance of interference between devices.

How soon can we expect to be using Li-Fi? Unfortunately, most offices, industrial buildings and homes are already fitted with the infrastructure necessary for Wi-Fi, so it is not economically feasible to rip it all out and replace it with the new Li-Fi technology.  However, researchers are looking at retrofitting current devices so that they will work with Li-Fi technology.  Li-Fi and Wi-Fi could be used together to achieve more efficient and secure networks.

Haas and his team have launched PureLiFi, a company that offers a plug-and-play application for secure wireless Internet with a capacity of 11.5 MB per second, which is comparable to first generation Wi-Fi.  Also, a French tech company, Oledcomm, is installing its own Li-Fi technology in local hospitals.

Haas’ dream is that everyone will have Internet in their home via LED light bulbs.  "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," Haas said. "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."

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