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Why LiFi Won't Replace WiFi

LiFi, is being used as a layer on top of WiFi to provide faster speeds, clearer communication and better interconnectivity between devices.

LiFi WiFi through light in office space
Two-way communication through light waves. [Photo courtesy of Signify Trulifi]

There’s a trend making waves in the smart lighting industry that experts say could be a key to unlocking the capabilities of IoT.


LiFi, or light fidelity, is a technology that uses optical and infrared light to transmit data. The term was first popularized in 2011 by University of Edinburgh physicist Harald Haas during his TED Global talk when he suggested the possibility that the world’s light bulbs could act as routers. For the better part of a decade, manufactures and developers have been figuring out ways to make the technology mainstream.


Despite some integration and network shortcomings, there have been some recent advances that are starting to turn concept into reality.


LiFi technology uses very rapid pulses of light to transmit data between devices. The core concept behind LiFi actually isn’t new. Similar to how TV remote controls work by sending data as light pulses to the receiver in our television, LiFi uses light to control thousands of data streams.


The main advantage of LiFi is seen as a way to enhance WiFi as a layer on top of WiFi to provide faster speeds, clearer communication and better interconnectivity between devices. As wireless data demands explode in the IoT era, the spectrum is getting crowded, and that’s where LiFi is beginning to shine.


But first, to really understand how LiFi may help to enable IoT growth, it’s important to understand its benefits and its shortcomings.


Advantages:

Ready-made network: While radio-based wireless connectivity relies on transmitters and base stations, the infrastructure for light-based connectivity relies on the prevalence of LED lamps that already exist in plenty. And all you need to convert an LED lamp to transmit LiFi signals is a single microchip.


Fast: In theory, LiFi boasts of speeds that are 100 times faster than a traditional WiFi connection and has the potential to be 3 times larger than the entire radio frequency spectrum, which means it could one day move a lot of data.

Secure: Data transmitted by LiFi travels in a straight line of light, so data doesn’t move through walls. This means that securing your network is as simple as closing your blinds or shutting the door. It’s also very difficult for a malware hijacker or hacker to infiltrate the system, because it means they have to be physically in the room to capture the data.


Low interference: Devices that use WiFi can interfere with one another because they emit radio frequencies. LiFi isn’t susceptible to electromagnetic interference because the technology is based on light pulses, so it’s not prone to clashes that can happen with phones, machines and robots on factory floors.


Disadvantages:

Limited reach: LiFi can only be used in specific limited areas because if light is blocked, the data signal transmission will be interrupted.


Low-light limitations: A LiFi receiver works only when an LED light is switched on, so it would be safe to assume that LiFi technology cannot be used in dark rooms. However, there are advancements have been made in LED technology where the lights can be dimmed low enough so that light can still be received by the sensor, but remains undetectable to the human eye.


Integration: LiFi can’t pass through walls, so there needs to be a series of transmitters in every room of your home or workplace to transmit the signal. Also, computer manufactures have been slow to embed chips in devices to support the technology, although it’s starting to happen now.


Office laptop receives a faster, more reliable data connection from LiFi.

Changing business and manufacturing

One of LiFi’s greatest potentials could be with the creation of smart cities that are designed with IoT integration in mind. Recently, two towns in India began using LiFi technology to power their hospitals, government offices and schools.


Industries, such as manufacturing, are also interested in this technology because it could help to better communicate with their robots and provide better data management. Plus, having lights on all the time isn’t an issue.


Also, the airline industry is eyeing its potential. Aircrafts have problems with interference from reception and transmission of mobile phone signals, which is why they require passengers to turn off their phones. LiFi could be an option by installing specific LED luminaires in the cabin where data can be transmitted normally, and passengers can use the internet at any time without affecting the flight.


And in the health care industry, the need for higher definition video for teleconferencing will require lightning speed connectivity along with a need for technology where electronic circuitry won’t interfere with radio frequencies.


With the continuous advancements of smart devices, and growing need for fast, reliable connections, LiFi is a great addition to supplement existing WiFi networks in key spaces.


Want to learn more? Check out Episode 7 of the Elevated Environments podcast, where we sit down with two LiFi innovators, Ed Huibers and Floris Maassen from Signify Trulifi, to discuss their experience with developing LiFi, and examples of successful installations around the world.