We’ve had hi-fi since the 1940s, and Wi-Fi is now seen as a basic human right, but what is Li-Fi?
Li-Fi stands for Light Fidelity, and it’s similar to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi and cell phone towers use radio waves to connect our mobiles, laptops, PCs, tablets, and a myriad of other devices to a network. This allows us to connect to the internet, send texts, and place phone calls.
Li-Fi does the same thing, but rather than radio waves, it uses light.
It was invented by Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Edinburgh. He first revealed his invention to the world at large in a TED Talk in July 2011. He demonstrated how a simple desk lamp with an LED bulb could be used to stream a high definition video to a smartphone placed beneath it.
The technology is roughly similar to that of a remote control. Our TV remotes send information to our TVs by using light. Haas’s real innovation is the ability to send vastly more complicated data through the same means.
In his TED Talk, Haas also outlined the benefits of this new technology. The idea becomes truly exciting when you grasp the potential it has. We are surrounded by lights all day and all night, the infrastructure is already there just waiting to be tapped into. Not only is this infrastructure already completely entwined with our daily lives, but it could take networking and the internet to the few places where it isn’t currently available such as hospitals and airplanes, which are sensitive to the radio waves of our current networking technology, will be at no risk from Li-Fi.
Li-Fi is also surprisingly efficient. In fact, if Li-Fi takes off, it may force the world to become more eco-friendly, because the LED bulbs required for Li-Fi are significantly more energy efficient than traditional bulbs. Of course, data can only be transferred when the light is on, but the Li-Fi can apparently still function faster than most broadband when turned on at a level imperceptible to the human eye. The extra energy required for this is negligible, especially when compared to the incredible inefficiency of overheating cell towers.
As data can only be obtained through light, Haas claims that our networks will be more secure. This seems difficult to argue with. While hackers (or those just looking for a free internet connection) can pick up the radio waves of our Wi-Fi, they’ll have a much harder time getting a hold of our light, as it can’t pass through walls. The flip side of this is the fact that Li-Fi has a more limited range than Wi-Fi.
At the moment, the main downfall is cost. All new technology is initially expensive, and it’s no different with Li-Fi. It currently has several products on the market such as ceiling units, desktop units, and installed access points for Li-Fi, but it would appear that the big changes are yet to come. Li-Fi has now teamed up with a French LED light manufacturer, and there is supposedly ‘Li-Fi compatible’ code lurking in Apple’s latest iOS update. Perhaps 2016 will be the year that Li-Fi takes off in a big way, but it’s still too early to say.
By Matt Watts