Understanding Li-Fi - what is it and what could it do for you?

Understanding Li-Fi - what is it and what could it do for you?

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In the coming years, wireless is set to be an essential part of any business' connectivity strategy. With the technology getting faster all the time and cellular advances such as 5G set to transform the way people think about connecting, fast, efficient solutions will be vital to success.

But this may present challenges for businesses relying on traditional Wi-Fi solutions. As networks get more congested, with more devices competing for bandwidth, this could stretch the limitations of the technology and lead to slower speeds and lost productivity for users.

However, there is an emerging solution that could solve these problems, and it's called Li-Fi. But what exactly is this technology, and how could it help transform the future of connectivity?

What is Li-Fi?

Traditional Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit data through the air, but Li-Fi, or Light Fidelity, as the name suggests, instead uses the visible light spectrum to transmit data.

This means that instead of wireless access points placed strategically around a building to provide the best coverage, Li-Fi is built directly into an LED lighting system. As this form of lighting is now the primary choice for installations in new and refurbished buildings, it makes sense to harness these utilities for more reliable connectivity.

The technology has been in development for several years and is now nearing a stage where commercial deployments are a practical reality. And the UK is one of the world leaders in Li-Fi technology, with several UK firms and universities, such as the University of Edinburgh,  helping spearhead the rollout of these solutions.

What are the key benefits?

One of Li-Fi's biggest advantages over Wi-Fi is the speed it can offer. Lab tests have suggested that theoretically, the technology could provide speeds of up to 224Gbps, though in commercial usage, speeds between 1Gbps and 8Gbps are more practical. However, this is still up to 40 times faster than what is typically available with standard Wi-Fi.

The greater bandwidth capabilities of Li-Fi could also be hugely useful in future environments where wireless IoT networks are operating alongside the next generation of smartphones, tablets and laptops. As the number of devices looking to connect to a network simultaneously grows, managing these demands with traditional Wi-Fi is likely to prove highly challenging.

While 5G is set to make mobile coverage much faster, and is likely to offer a speed boost over existing Wi-Fi solutions, getting the best speeds indoors is likely to be difficult. This is because it is harder for the high-frequency, short-wavelength radio spectrum used for 5G to penetrate walls and windows as well as 4G radio signals.

Li-Fi could therefore be the ideal solution to offer the fastest possible connectivity everywhere within a building in an era where end-users are coming to expect lightning-fast data transfer speeds wherever they are.

What applications could it have?

While practical rollouts are still in the early stages, it has proven to be useful in deployments both large and small. For example in the UK, trials have taken place in primary schools such as Kyle Academy in Ayrshire, while the Paris Metro is also looking to implement the technology.

The solution could also prove to be particularly advantageous in locations where radio waves are more subject to interference, or are unable to be used for safety reasons.

In the future, there are also suggestions the likes of Apple and Google will invest in Li-Fi, which could help it really reach the mainstream. This is likely to still be a couple of years away, but when versions of iOS and Android are equipped to support the technology, adoption could skyrocket.

Harald Haas, professor of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh and the man who coined the term Li-Fi, said in a 2017 paper: "25 years from now, we argue that the LED lightbulb will serve thousands of applications and will be an integral part of the emerging smart cities, smart homes and the IoT."


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