Just when you thought there wasn’t a corner of the earth not covered by Wi-Fi, it seems an exciting alternative is waiting in the wings; ready to offer a faster and more efficient service at the flick of a switch.
Light-based wireless communication (Li-Fi) is a method of internet connectivity that doesn’t use cables or radio waves – it uses the flickering light from a special LED to transmit data just like any other Wi-Fi adapter would.
Not heard of it? Well don’t worry, you’re not alone.
But if scientists are to be believed this technology is not light years away – it’s much closer than that and could be in every home within a decade.
1. What does Li-Fi stand for?
Its official name is Light-based wireless communication, though this has now been adapted to Light Fidelity, which has since been abbreviated to the much catchier Li-Fi.
2. How does it work?
The idea behind Li-Fi is almost identical to Wi-Fi technology. But instead of throwing out radio waves in all directions from a router, it sends light shooting out to connect to your smartphone, laptop, or other devices via specially adapted LED lamps. The lights flicker at high speed (which is un-noticeable to the human eye), sending data around the building. Effectively Li-Fi uses light in the same way that fiber optics do - but instead of maintaining it through thin strands, it allows the light to spread out in all directions so multiple devices are able to connect. Existing LED light bulbs can easily be converted to transmit Li-Fi signals with a single microchip.
3. What speeds could I hope to achieve?
Li-Fi has the potential to be faster than Wi-Fi connections, a lot faster. In recent tests UK scientists reported transmission speeds of 10Gbit/s using this new technology – “more than 250 times faster than the so called ‘superfast’ broadband that is currently offered.“
4. What are the benefits?
The obvious advantage is the incredible speeds available to users. On recent evidence, it would be possible to download an HD film in 30 seconds using Li-Fi. It also offers greater privacy. Li-Fi can only work when your device is able to detect the light being emitted by the router; meaning you have to be in the same room that the light is being emitted. Anyone in the close vicinity (such as outside the building) will not be able to use, or “piggyback” your connection.
5. Are there any drawbacks?
The most obvious disadvantage of Li-Fi is that in order for your devices to connect; they must be in direct line of site of the LED bulb. In other words – if the light is not on, or your computer is in another room, then you won’t be connected. But don’t worry if you like to use your tablet in bed after dark. Bulbs could be dimmed to the point that they were not visible to humans and yet still functional.