Every year, we consume approximately 60 percent more wireless data as the number of connected devices continues to rise. The exponential growth of mobile devices – which Ericsson predicts will hit 6.1 billion globally by 2020 – will undoubtedly impact the offloading of data from cellular networks, and create an intensified bandwidth battle across wireless networks if they remain as they are. This inevitable spectrum crunch is resulting in Wi-Fi providers feeling the pressure of their own success.
Due to the fact that we have become so accustomed to this Internet-driven, online lifestyle, a shortage of wireless capacity and decline in speed and connectivity may seem an alarming thought. However, we need not worry, as there is a new kid on the block that has the potential to relieve these issues by making use of what we already have: light.
Li-Fi, meaning light fidelity, can be used in connected devices in the home, driverless cars and street lights, among others. It uses off-the-shelf LED light bulbs to enable a wireless Internet connection, and can deliver much greater speeds than standard Wi-Fi. This is primarily due to the fact that the visible light spectrum has a bandwidth potential 10,000 times that of the traditional radio frequency spectrum that Wi-Fi operates on, with the ability to transmit data at a speed of 224 GB per second.
In short, data is fed into an LED light bulb equipped with signal processing technology; the data is then embedded in a beam and sent to a photo detector at rapid speeds, and the tiny changes in the rapid dimming of LED bulbs are then converted by the ‘receiver’ into electrical signal. This signal is then converted back into a binary data stream to a web, video or audio application that runs on an Internet-enabled device.
The reality of this connectivity at the flick of a switch is slowly gathering momentum through the pioneering start-ups that initiated it in the first place. pureLiFi, a UK-based company, is one of the main players in this field. The term was actually coined by the company’s co-founder and CSO, Professor Harald Haas, when he demonstrated the technology for the first time at a TED talk in 2011.
At Mobile World Congress last year, pureLiFi revealed the world’s first Li-Fi USB dongle, known as Li-Fi-X. The credit-card-sized dongle contains a photoreceptor that receives a signal from a Li-Fi-enabled light, and an infrared transmitter to send data back. This year, the company went one better and demonstrated an integrated Li-Fi luminaire, which integrates the modulation components into a black ring designed to encircle an LED light. The ring then lays flush with the ceiling and makes Li-Fi-enabled LEDs virtually indistinguishable from regular lights.
The adoption of Li-Fi technology can be a valuable addition to a business, believes Alistair Banham, CEO, pureLiFi. “In an office environment, Li-Fi can offer high speed, bidirectional and fully networked wireless communications that can provide significantly enhanced data density, user rates and security,” he says. “The existing lighting infrastructure of an office can be repurposed to also provide Internet access that is energy efficient and isn’t vulnerable to interference from other wireless networks.”
While it may already sound like a done deal, there are some considerations that businesses should make before rolling out this technology. The inability of light to penetrate walls and extend the wireless connection beyond the room containing the Li-Fi enabled LED could be seen as a disadvantage, as it would mean every room in a house or office environment would need a Li-Fi lighting fixture.
However, pureLiFi spins this as a major selling point of the technology, as it enables a much more secure transfer of data across the light spectrum compared to the radio frequency spectrum. “Li-Fi is significantly more secure than other wireless technologies, because light can be contained in a physical space, and we can create the conditions that allow us to shut the door on our wireless data,” adds Banham.
Since the technology’s official inception in 2011, further companies have taken a shine to the idea and have looked to exploit it as a viable alternative to using radio frequencies. In the Middle East, Marc Fleschen, CEO of Zero.1, has been a particular driver of Li-Fi implementations. “Zero.1 is committed to bringing Li-Fi to life in this region, by providing experimental solutions to the public across industrial, commercial, leisure and home environments,” he says. “We have created a platform of Li-Fi enabled LEDs with our Intelligent Outdoor Tower Automation product range, together with our City.1 software, which takes the traditional LED street light and enables communication through SMS and VOIP. In addition, this can connect people through motion detection and geo-localisation services, which allow users to benefit from on-the-spot location information.”
Through Zero.1’s partnership with telecom provider du, the pair initiated the first Li-Fi demonstration of its kind in the Middle East. The duo are also set to roll out a range of solutions which will provide a variety of analytics, communication and management systems, and customer engagement solutions across the emirate. Outside of the Middle East, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority made an announcement that part of the Li-Fi spectrum will be allocated as license-exempt, to enable Li-Fi industry trials. “pureLiFi is working with companies globally to provide solutions and proof of concept evaluations for unique use cases,” adds Banham. “We would now like to see the type of support seen in Singapore replicated worldwide.”
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global Li-Fi market is expected to hit $80 billion by 2021. There is certainly scope for this technology to take off in nations where governments are focused on improving communication and Internet penetration, and the UAE is a prime example of following this initiative. The vast bandwidth of light and its limited exposure to radiation place Li-Fi as a perfect alternative to traditional Wi-Fi networks, and we can be sure to see demand for this technology to increase exponentially in the coming years