Internet access is so fundamental that it is starting to be considered a basic human right. However, access to the internet remains uneven. As more devices connect to the internet, more bandwidth is eaten up. Li-Fi is a new route to connectivity that will provide more bandwidth and speed once the technology is completely developed — and it’s very close.

WHAT IS LI-FI?

Li-Fi uses an LED bulb’s modulated light signal instead of a modulated radio signal to send data and connect to the internet. The LiFi-X system from PureLiFi transmits data using waves in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that an LED bulb with a microchip generates. The LED light fixture and a dongle for a USB port comprise the LiFi-X system which delivers speeds of up to 42Mbps, up and down. The system is already in use as its parent company, PureLiFi, has been collaborating with tech companies around the world to trial and improve the technology.

A Li-Fi system offers a business many advantages, including improved security. Sending and receiving data through light means that access can be limited much more easily than with Wi-Fi because light does not penetrate walls. On the other hand, this also presents a challenge in terms of making Li-Fi as convenient as Wi-Fi. Smart architecture will be required to increase Li-Fi’s range, and dim LEDs will make it possible to have Li-Fi access that follows users and works even in the dark.

Li-Fi can also be applied in settings that are impossible for Wi-Fi. For example, Li-Fi is ideal for in-flight internet access and high security installations like petrochemical plants in which risk of sparks makes radio antennas too dangerous to be used.

The equipment for Li-Fi is too big to be used in mobile devices — but perhaps only for the moment. Miniaturizing the technology is one of the biggest goals for PureLiFi and, according to Digital Trends, a newly redesigned LiFi-X with a much smaller dongle is coming later this year to use for laptops. This version is still too large to fit into a smartphone, but since “LiFiCapability” language was found in iOS code for a future iPhone model, it seems likely that the smartphone version is coming.

BETTER BANDWIDTH VIA LI-FI

Consumer demand for wireless data is pressuring existing Wi-Fi technology more every day. The ongoing, exponentially growing number of mobile devices in particular is expected to reach 11.6 billion by 2021 — exceeding the projected population of the planet at that time (7.8 billion). This translates into a monthly information level of about 35 quintillion (1018) bytes — a level that will be unsustainable with current wireless infrastructure and technology.

Li-Fi can relieve this pressure because the visible light frequencies it uses are relatively underutilized. PureLifi and other companies working to develop the technology are already partnering with businesses in the lighting industry to grow the lighting ecosystem now so that, hopefully, by the time Li-Fi tech is ready to go online at scale the infrastructure it needs will be ready.

In February 2016, Li-Fi technology sent data at up to 1GB per second in trials, which is 100 times faster than currently available Wi-Fi technology. These trial runs were obviously slower than the lab tests, but they demonstrated that Li-Fi connections should be able to transmit up to 224 gigabits per second. By August, researchers were sending data 20 times faster than they did in February. Speeds are expected to continue to improve.

New smartphone and computer designs could incorporate this technology, perhaps in doubly innovative ways. For example, Li-Fi connectivity cells might also provide an opportunity for solar charging capabilities in smart devices. And, while it is unlikely that Li-Fi will entirely replace Wi-Fi, it will almost surely become the exclusive source of data transmission in high security areas, on planes, or in older buildings that disrupt Wi-Fi signals.