11 June, 2017

Is LiFi the new WiFi?

Posted by Sahil Goyal
For those of us old enough to remember that awful sound as dial up internet tried, usually in vain, to connect us to the world at large, an improvement on the wonders of WiFi can seem a little superfluous, but as our need for speed and reliance on connectivity continues to grow exponentially, it is only a matter of time before a new delivery method supersedes good old WiFi. LiFi could just be that beast. LiFi is a wireless optical networking technology taking advantage of LEDs to transmit data.

How does LiFi work?

The way that LiFi is designed is that it uses LED light bulbs, just like those in modern, energy conscious houses and office buildings. These LED bulbs, however, are fitted with a chip that modulates the light in a tiny way to facilitate the transmission of optical data.
LiFi is designed to use LED light bulbs similar to those currently in use in many energy-conscious homes and offices. However, LiFi bulbs are outfitted with a chip that modulates the light imperceptibly for optical data transmission. LiFi data is transmitted by the LED bulbs and received by photoreceptors.

What are the practical benefits over WiFi?

LiFi is still really in its infancy in terms of its development as a viable rival to WiFi, but the early models were capable of 150 Mbps, which is obviously a very good start. There have already been some commercial kits released that are capable of that same speed. Under lab conditions, however, using stronger LEDs and altered technology it has been possible to achieve as much as 10Gbps!
In terms of a brief outline of the advantages of LiFi over WiFi (and indeed in general), here are a few of the key ones:
  • Potential for much higher speeds – just how high is anyone’s guess.
  • 10,000 times the frequency spectrum capability of radio.
  • Capable of stopping the problem of neighbouring network interference.
  • Enhanced security.
  • Eliminates the piggybacking problem.
  • Not impeded by radio wave interference.
  • No interference with sensitive electronics – a real improvement for use in hospitals and on aeroplanes.

Discussion and testing

LiFi technology could be fitted in every light in a building, vastly enhancing coverage compared to a single or even multiple WiFi routers. Of course the technology is not without its problems, not least the fact that it needs a clear line of sight and also requires that lights stay on for uninterrupted operation, which has a cost and environmental implication.
Obviously in an industry whose mantra is bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth, this is unlikely to prove an insurmountable drawback. Ariel Gomez, who headed a team of researchers at Oxford University, carried out tests that highlighted the vast potential of the technology. Gomez and his team situated hubs in a series of rooms designed to send data to and from each other by harnessing a ‘holographic beam steering’ both from the receiver and transmitter. These steerers function as prisms, bending the wavelength as and when it is needed. For instance, with a 60 degree field of view, six wavelength each managed to transmit data at 37.4 Gbps, achieving an aggregate bandwidth of 224 Gbps. With a 36 degree field of view they only succeded in opening three channels and achieving 112 Gbps aggregate.
The phase of testing has moved on now to focus on implementing some type of tracking mechanism, which would enable devices to directly connect to the transmissions themselves, but the initial tests are incredibly promising and if the field of vision conundrum can be solved then there is every chance that you’ll be changing over from WiFi to LiFi in your lifetime.

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