Finally, after many years, there has come a new viable alternative to replace our years old Wi-Fi technology. Being literally a hundred times faster than its counterpart, Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) is a technology based on visual light communication (VLC). It uses light to transmit data at speeds up to 226 gigabits per second.
Li-Fi uses LED bulbs, which many of us currently have in our homes, to send data. It calculates the minute changes in the light amplitude (flickering) and converts it into electric signals which can be used for data transmission purposes.
The term Light Fidelity or Li-Fi is coined by Professor Harold Haas, a Professor at The University of Edinburgh. He introduced the technology at his TED talk and showed it to be a viable alternative to Wi-Fi. He demonstrated a working prototype in which he used a standard desk lamp with an LED bulb to stream a high definition video in front of the audience.
He argued its superiority saying they would enable a “cleaner, greener and even a brighter future.”
Li-Fi vs Wi-Fi
There is a need for technology like Li-Fi to replace the Wi-Fi standard. There are some concerns that Wi-Fi spectrum is reaching its full capacity, which could lead to lower quality and price surges as claimed by the FCC. In addition, the available spectrum is very expensive and time-consuming to produce. Millions of radio stations placed around the world emit these waves. And most of the cost goes not into the creation of these radio waves, but the maintenance of stations which produces it.
In addition, Wi-Fi is claimed to have several health effects because the radio waves it emits has minute traces of radiation. This radiation, although in small quantity, causes irregular heartbeat and overall instability to physical and mental health, especially in small children. The reason being that children, due to their smaller skulls and more absorbent brain tissues, intake more radiation than adults. The effects are not instantly detectable, but rather happen over a long period of time.
But the scenario for Li-Fi is very different. For one, it uses light as its medium for data transfer. Light, as we know, has been here for hundreds of years, and natural light since the beginning. It causes no damage to our health but is a basic necessity of life in the modern world. Because without light, our ability to do meaningful tasks becomes severely limited, even impossible.
So given light’s importance, its availability is no issue, with Li-Fi spectrum estimated to be 10000 times more than Wi-Fi. And no special plants or stations are needed for Li-Fi to work because light is already available everywhere, from our homes to schools, on our roads and in our offices. This makes Li-Fi technology energy efficient, cost effective and in abundance.
All we need to do is attach a microchip to our LED light bulbs and a light sensor on our phones, laptops and other data receiving devices. We can then use the microchip to turn the light bulbs on and off, thus sending signals to our phones and other devices. And this turning on and off happens so quickly, the human eye cannot see the flickering but only a steady source of light.
There are many benefits of Li-Fi. For example, as light cannot penetrate through walls like radio waves can, data also cannot travel to the other person in another room. This makes Li-Fi usage very secure. It also means that every room must have its own LED bulb installed as to get to work everywhere. Users will also have the ability to stop the flow of data whenever they want, by simply switching off the light bulb.
There is one major limitation of Li-Fi. As light cannot travel through walls, we may need to install every room with a Li-Fi bulb so as to get it to cover all areas of buildings. Also, at night, if someone wants to use the internet, they can only dim the light but not completely turn it off if they want to keep the connection. Professor Harold claims that users can dim the light to such an extent that it will look like the light is off, all the while still sending amplitude signals and maintaining the connection.
This phenomenon is because Li-Fi technology is indifferent to the intensity of light. Its only concern and focus are to detect changes in intensity, not the intensity itself.
In essence, a Li-Fi system works very much like a remote control. A remote control uses short bursts of infrared light to send signals to your TV, in which each burst of light contains a single data stream of information enough to tell your TV to change the channel, lower the volume or turn it off.
But where Li-Fi differentiates is that its light spreads much farther than the remote control’s so one can move freely about the room and not worry about losing their connection. Also, Li-Fi is capable of sending not just a single data stream, but hundreds at much higher rate those in a remote control.
Present vs Future
All this is wonderful. But one big hurdle left for it to overcome is two-way communication. Big devices like a laptop or TV will not have this problem as light will almost always reach their sensors in a room. But what about mobile phones? They are not always out in the light. They are in our pockets. And when we use them, we squint over, sometimes blocking the light’s path which could disconnect the device.
Even though Li-Fi is a great technology, we have to conclude that it’s not as ready as it seems. It is too easy to block making it less reliable and it requires extensive installation.
But the possibilities are endless. More people can get access to the internet and at ten times cheaper the cost, in places not thought possible like submarines and mountain tops. It would also cause no electromagnetic interference, rendering the need for airplane mode quite necessary in future years. But will it gain traction and popularity? Will it go mainstream and signal the end of Wi-Fi era or will it work alongside it? Although it is estimated that the Li-Fi market will be worth 6 billion dollars by 2018, only time will tell.
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