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LiFi: Lighting the Future of Internet

Introduction

Technology geeks had a strong reason to celebrate after they invented wireless networking-Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi, which was boosted by the speedy broadband internet connections, is still the easiest way to allow several computers to share a broadband link. However, that may soon be a thing of the past!

The current Wi-Fi is more than 3,000 times faster than its first version which was launched in the nineties. Wi-Fi has a lot of advantages- convenience, mobility, deployment and cost, but a lot of limitations which include security, range, reliability and speed have now started annoying its users. As the world moves closer towards Internet of Things and more devices connect to the internet, the dearth of spectrum will become a real world problem. Considering this and many other such limitations, some other technology should replace Wi-Fi which never faces spectrum crunch, ever!

A new technology, Li-Fi is strengthening its footing in the internet world.  This technology has superlative speed and has many features that have started impressing the technology giants.

Let’s find out how this technology works, its advantages over Wi-Fi and how much color it has, to paint the future canvas of internet.

 

Now you can see light! It’s called Li-Fi

Wi-Fi currently plays a significant role in our personal and professional lives. An upsetting fact about Wi-Fi, which may become a real challenge soon is the dearth of radio frequency spectrum for mobile devices. This situation of future would limit the devices that may use Wi-Fi.

Spectrum is a range of radio-waves used for communication. This comprises of the FM and AM radio broadcasts which one listens to almost daily. It can also be in the form of other wireless forms of communication like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Smartphones used by almost everyone today, also uses the same radio waves to transfer data. The difference lies in the specific frequencies in use, and the technology used for transmitting the waves into something useful (whether that’s the voice on the radio, the SMS one reads, or the webpage). The spectrum is limited and only a small band of the electromagnetic spectrum is worthwhile for communication purpose. With more people using smartphones and tablets, which use around 24 and 122 times more data respectively than a traditional cell phone, there is a greater need for spectrum. The question is, where’s it going to come from?

This situation urged the industry to find something more robust and far more secure technology. The outcome of the research is what we now know as Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) which uses the visible light spectrum instead of radio frequencies.

Professor Harald Haas, also called the father of Li-Fi stated in TED talk “The way we transmit wireless data is by using electromagnetic waves — in particular, radio waves. And radio waves are limited. They are scarce; they are expensive; and we only have a certain range of it. And it’s this limitation that doesn’t cope with the demand of wireless data transmissions and the number of bytes and data which are transmitted every month.” Interestingly, Li-Fi is a Visible Light Communications (VLC) system that makes the use of commonly employed household LED (light emitting diodes) lightbulbs to capacitate data transmission, with potentials of incredibly high speeds of up to 224 gigabits per second. VLC is a communication wherein any form of information is sent using a light signal.

VLC = Illumination + Communication

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Wi-Fi vs. Li-Fi

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Every technology comes with its own set of limitations and Li-Fi is not an exception. Prima facie it may give an impression that Li-Fi with its superlative speed will toss Wi-Fi in the dust but the Li-Fi works only in line of sight of an LED and hence as the Li-Fi signals cannot pass through walls, they will have to be used in conjunction with Wi-Fi where in-house internet may run on Li-Fi while the area in public domain will still be using Wi-Fi. Interestingly, owing to its shorter range, Li-Fi is comparatively safer than its counterpart as it can only be transferred in a direct line of vision thus making it more difficult to intercept than Wi-Fi, which can be picked up through walls and other barriers.

 

Li-Fi- An industry in the making

Li-Fi enthusiasts have started coming out with commercial products. PureLi-Fi[i], co-founded by Prof. Harald Haas has introduced Li-1st, the world’s first commercially available high-speed optical wireless system. It operates with an array of commonly used LED luminaries. Philips has already started deploying products based on this technology. It installed an indoor-positioning technology with Carrefour using visible light communications (VLC) and LED-based luminaires last year[ii]. Reports suggest that Apple may make future iPhones with Li-Fi capabilities. Samsung is also playing a leading role in the domain by holding highest number of patents*, followed by ETRI & Southeast University.

Key companies contributing in Li-Fi market include PureLi-Fi, GE, LVX, Philips, etc. For large companies, M&A activity is generally seen as one of the key strategies by large companies to enter new verticals and it is also an important aspect of new tech investments. Going forward, M&A activities in Li-Fi industry may lead to market expansion while technological differentiation and innovation may play a critical role for its success.

 

Illuminating the future

Going forward, the increasing demand of high-end mobile technology and the impending RF spectrum-crunch is expected to underpin the global Li-Fi market. As it uses the visible light spectrum, the LI-Fi technology is expected to complement Wi-Fi in environments where the latter is not considered appropriate. Li-Fi market size is anticipated to reach USD 75.5 billion by 2023; as per a research report, which also valued U.S. Li-Fi market at around USD 190 million in 2015. Though the estimate of the Li-Fi market size varies amongst various research organizations but what seems almost certain is that in the future, the Li-Fi will play a crucial role in areas where data security is paramount.

Currently, the global Li-Fi market is fractioned into key geographical areas including North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and MEA. In particular, Asia Pacific embraces a lot of room for growth amid substantial requisite of online connectivity. The U.S Li-Fi market is also expected to grow rapidly.

According to our study, Visible Light Communication Consortium (VLCC) *, the University of Oxford, Smart Lighting Engineering Research Centre, Keio University, et cetera are the most distinguished establishments centering around innovation and product promotion of Li-Fi.

 

Wake up call

Some industries should wake up, the sooner the better, for the call of this latest technology that is expected to hit the mass market in next 5-7 years. Many industry experts strongly feel that in next 4-5 years, we’ll start witnessing the commercial applications of this technology. What’s already out is a PureLi-Fi’s USB 2.0 powered dongle using Li-Fi[iii] that is smaller than a credit card and can be used with tablets.

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Besides offering fresh opportunities, new technology may sometimes come as a scary dream for many
industries and the businesses which fail to shoulder the advancement bear the brunt. Li-Fi has ability to change the future canvas of internet and dependent industries.

 

Disrupting the disruptors

No wonder, the Li-Fi technology has so far garnered an immense attention and is going to disrupt the existing technologies. The internet, which is on the brink of another revolution may witness extremely new products, technologies and gadgets which might change the way we do things today.

  • We may find airplanes offering significantly low-priced yet high speed internet, an area where presently a huge divergence in pricing and speeds exists. Companies involved in making smart cars may be adding new features as only with the help of an LED, cars would drive with uninterrupted high speed internet.
  • Healthcare would be disrupted the most with the evolution of a safer internet as data security is a vital function for healthcare sector.
  • Underwater vehicles will be using internet and as time progresses, these LEDs will be running on solar power, what we believe may be the next level in the technology. Employing solar energy to create the power for ‘Li-Fi’ technology may be effective in bringing profound commercial and societal benefits to the people across the world, according to a research project at Edinburgh University. As per Professor Harald Haas, “light is used to transfer data, whereas the solar panel receives high speed data, which, effectively, gives the solar panel the means to provide energy for Li-Fi technology and act as a broadband receiver for Li-Fi.”[iv]
  • Who knows that someday, solar powered streetlights will be coordinating with each other and providing real time signals of traffic, making transport and logistics safer, greener and better. The future belongs to the data and safety of the same will be surely a concern of future. Li-Fi, offering a safer internet, as it doesn’t cross walls and hence lowering the probability of data hacking, will help increase the security levels in practically all spheres.
  • The technology is well placed to present boundless potential for entirely new applications. It may include the broader concept of Internet-of-Things, health track systems, smart cities and traffic flow administration and smart homes.
  • Also, data transfer in challenging atmospheres such as the bottom of mines, where proper data communication through radio wave is not possible because of distorted data transmission and limited frequency range, subaquatic communications may be brought into use for rescue operations, defense etc. Also it can be used in more advanced mobile communication networks.

Today’s developments suggest, Li-Fi is positioning itself to drastically affect how we see internet today. Someday, Wi-Fi may have to give away its major chunk of market share of internet industry to its ever strongest rival-Li-Fi and may have to settle only as a supporting player of the game.

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Many companies with global footprints have invested heavily in the Li-Fi and scientists have started testing Li-Fi out of the lab, trialling it in workplaces and various industries at 1 GB per second i.e 100 times faster than existing average Wi-Fi speed. The rapid expansion in the Li-Fi industry and the fast approaching Internet of Things makes a case for researching heavily on the Li-Fi.

First movers in a technology are generally prone to some risk but if the innovation proves successful, they can reap big rewards. Market tends to reward innovators enormously if they sucessfully complete a product launch while punishing those who start too late.

A lot of research is yet to be done on the technology and if you have not started researching yet, it might be too late to catch the train.

 

 

Annexure:

VLCC Member Companies

  • The Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.
  • NEC Corporation
  • Toshiba Corporation
  • Sony Corporation
  • The Nippon Signal Co., Ltd.
  • Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd.
  • Avago Technologies Japan, Ltd.
  • Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
  • Matsushita Electric Works, Ltd.
  • KDDI
  • R&D Laboratories
  • NTT DoCoMo, Inc.
  • Casio Computer Co., Ltd.
  • Information System Research Institute
  • Kyocera Corporation
  • NEC Lighting, Ltd.
  • Nakagawa Laboratories, Inc.
  • Fuji Television
  • Oi Electric Co., Ltd.
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co., Ltd.
  • Wasshoi Co., Ltd.
  • MoMoAlliance Co., Ltd.
  • Tamura Corporation
  • Nitto Denko Corporation
  • Sharp Corporation
  • Comtech 2000
  • Outstanding Technology

 

 

* Samsung, with 25 patents, tops the list and leaves others behind by a great margin. It filed its first patent on Li-Fi technology in 2007. Its first three patents were on the basic working of Li-Fi equipment. These patents disclose how communication using an LED bulb is possible. Source: www.greyb.com

[i] http://pureLi-Fi.com/

 

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQw-o6bjrec

 

[iii] http://www.investinedinburgh.com/invest-blog/pureLi-Fi/

 

[iv] http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2015/Li-Fi-spinout-121115

 

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