Li-fi: Flipping the switch on the internet
The way we access the internet could be in for a major shakeup in the next couple of years. Li-fi, which stands for Light Fidelity, is a relatively new method of transmitting data using LED lightbulbs. An Estonian start-up called Velmenni conducted a successful li-fi test and found that the new method delivers internet access 100 times faster than traditional wi-fi.
Harald Haas has been working on developing li-fi technology for years. He first garnered national attention in a 2011 TED Talk. A professor of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Haas headed a group which published the first proof, demonstrating commercially available LED light bulbs can be used as wireless transmission systems.
“Radio spectrum is not sufficient,” says Haas. “It’s heavily used, it’s very crowded… we see that when we go to airports and hotels, where many people want to access the mobile internet, and it’s terribly slow. I saw this coming 12, 15 years ago, so I thought ‘what are better ways of transmitting data wirelessly?”
— Science Friday (@scifri) November 30, 2015
Instead of using radio waves, li-fi uses the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit information. A photosensitive detector can pick up on the changes in the intensity of the light, which are too subtle to be noticed by the human eye. Devices such as cell phones, laptops, and tablets can be modified with the detectors to receive transmissions from LED lights.
Li-fi has the potential to turn every LED lightbulb around us into a wireless transmission device. This means we could have constant access to the internet from the lights in homes, buildings, in cars, or even from street lights. Bulbs do not even need to be on to transmit data. They could be dimmed to a point at which they appear off to the human eye but still provide internet access.
Li-fi has many advantages, but it still has some hurdles to overcome before it can seriously challenge wi-fi for market dominance. Li-fi needs clear line of sight to the light source in order to work. Barriers, such as walls and curtains, can cut off internet connection. Poor conditions, such as fog or rain, could also inhibit signals. Until these obstacles can be overcome, li-fi is still not a feasible option for mass market internet access.
On a mass produced level, how would li-fi handle the switch from one light source to another without dropping internet connection? How would the implementation of li-fi affect internet security? Feel free to leave a comment or find me on Twitter @Andrew_Morse4