Lighting is a big part of our everyday lives, because without light we wouldn’t be able to work as long as we want, stay up as long as we want and go wherever and whenever we want. We would need adapt to the natural light cycle, and believe me that would not be ideal in the wintertime, when the dark period is much, much longer than the light on. The same could be said about the Internet, because it also has become an integral part of so many peoples lives, be it private lives or work lives. And without the Internet, we as a species wouldn’t be where we are with technology, science, innovation. But what if we could combine two of these fields – lighting and the Internet, to create something new? To create an elevated form of what we know now as Wi-Fi or a wireless fidelity, that would allow us to communicate that much faster, to send data that much faster and to have Internet, that is almost literally has the speed of light?
What is Li-Fi?
Light fidelity or Li-Fi for short is a way how we can transmit data using just our LED lights. It would let us forgo things like cellular radio masts, routers and other infrastructure that makes up the network and use just our Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights to use the internet and other similar signals.
Visible light, just as radio-waves that are used to transmit Wi-Fi signal, is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is made up from Gamma radiation that essentially is radioactive energy, X rays, that are used to photograph bones in the hospitals, UV light that is used in tanning beds, visible light or the light that we can see with our eyes, infrared light that is employed in night-vision and thermal vision devices and radio-waves through which you can transmit all kinds of signals from audio, to video, to data to even heat. And since LED lights emit visible light, because we can physically see light whenever we turn on a LED lamp, they are also able to transmit data, similarly to how it is done through radio-waves now, just in a much broader spectrum. In fact the visible light spectrum is about 10,000 times bigger than that of radio-waves, which means that we have a technology in our hands, that we could use to transmit data and do it at higher speeds and in larger amounts. But can we just turn on any LED light and turn it into our personal data transmitter? No, for that you will still need certain devices, that although will be much cheaper, greener and more sustainable than the Wi-Fi technology infrastructure that is now available to us.
How is Li-Fi possible?
The first thing we will need to get the Li-Fi technology off the ground is to actually have the LED bulbs, which means that we will need to replace all the incandescent, fluorescent and other types of bulbs with LED ones. Truth to be told, nowadays, many are already doing that on their own accord simply because LED bulbs, although more expensive upfront, lets us save a ton of money on electricity in the long run, because their energy consumption is extremely small, yet they are able to output bright light that would satisfy anyone who are using different bulbs right now. So this step wouldn’t be a problem. But the second one could prove to be a little more challenging.
As you might guess, in order to be able to transmit data through LED light, we will need some type of transmitter and receiver, just like a remote control transmits data to our TVs whenever we want to change the channel or turn up the volume. The transmitters in the LiFi technology are LED bulbs (equipped with signal-processing technology), the light is the medium which transmits the data, so all we need is a receiver that would be able to convert subtle changes in wave amplitude that the LEDs emit into an electrical signal, which in return would be converted into an ultra high speed data stream. So to make this technology work all we would need to do is to equip our phones, computers, tablets and what not with the LiFi receivers – photo-detectors that would be able to understand the data stream that is transmitted though the light and that will allow us to use this fast data transition tech to browse the web and do everything we are already doing on our devices using WiFi.
By this point many people probably is thinking “Well, won’t we have to leave our lights on all the time then?”, which would be highly inconvenient especially in the nighttime. The answer to this questions is, yes, we would have to leave the lights on, but, because LED lights can be dimmed down to the point, when human eye doesn’t see the light as being on anymore, then the fact that the LED lamps would be one all the time and transmitting data wouldn’t pose any problems and wouldn’t bother us, just give us a way how to have super-fast internet.
The benefits of Li-Fi technology
Now that we know what the Li-Fi technology is and how it works, we can also look at some of the main benefits of it.
- Availability – one of the best things about this technology is how available it will be. We can already see LED light bulbs becoming a common lighting choice of people all around the world, so we could use this light infrastructure that we already have as a means to transmit data at very high speeds, by only adding the receivers to our devices.
- Capacity – probably the biggies advantage of LiFi is its capacity. Right now with WiFi, which is distributed through radio waves, we are constricted to a limited amount of waves through which the data can be transmitted, and that is the reason why WiFi right now cannot go past the speed of 7 gigabits per second. But since the visible light is in much broader spectrum than radio-waves, the data transmission speeds of LiFi could potentially even reach 3 terabits per second.
- Efficiency – another thing that makes the LiFi technology superior to now used WiFi is the efficiency. For us to have WiFi we need routers, cellular radio masts and other devices that enables us to use WiFi, but often these devices use quite a lot of electricity. Whereas LED bulbs are famous for their low electricity consumption and therefore would be cheaper to use and cheaper to maintain as an inftrasturcture.
- Security – then there is the issue of security, which is not something a lot of people think about. Since WiFi is transmitted with the help of radio-waves that can easily penetrate through walls, then WiFi is not the most secure thing in the world. Even if your WiFi is password protected, there is a chance that somebody from outside can crack it and use your internet without your promission. But since visible light cannot penetrate walls, then there will be no way somebody can jump onto your LiFi signal if they are not in the room with you.
- Environmentally-friendly – and lastly LiFi is also a bit more environmentally friendly, sine we wouldn’t have to use all the WiFi infrastructure anymore and the lamps would consume much less energy.
But where there are advantages, disadvantages usually follow close by, and believe me, there are cons to the LiFi technology.
- Crudity – one of the biggest challenges that LIFi faces right now is that the tech is nowhere near ready to be implemented commercially. It still needs a lot of work and a lot of kinks regarding LiFi need to be worked out, before it can debut as a ready-to-use alternative to WiFi.
- Accessibility – I already mentioned, that LiFi would be that much more secure, since it cannot penetrate though walls, but at the same time this poses the problem of connection accessibility and how to make it so that when you move into a different room or are walking from one room to another, we don’t loose our previous data streams and the video we were watching or song we were streaming doesn’t cut off.
- Efficiency – efficiency is yet another thing that could use some work, since LED lamps, even though they would be dimmed so much so, that we wouldn’t able to see the light with our eyes, would consume as much energy as LEDs do when they are not dimmed. So if it would be possible to create tech that would allow LEDs to recognize that they are dimmed and therefore consume less electricity, then we would be able to truly say that LiFi technology is sensationally energy-efficient.
- Data returns – then there also is the problem of how do you send data back to the bulb, so the data stream is a proper two way data highway.
- Speed – and lastly there also still are some issues with the speed. Of coarse, there is no doubt that the capacity of LiFi data stream is amazing and would let us use the internet at lightning-fast speeds, but unfortunately the speed is affected by that what kind of LEDs are used, for example cheaper, phosphor-coated LED bulbs would significantly slow down the data transmission speed, but more expensive, laser-based LEDs wold be able to reach 100 Gbps speeds, so this would have to be solved, too, before LiFi would become a common thing and before we all start using light instead of radio-waves to surf the net.