Li-Fi to replace Wi-Fi? Sounds like Sci-Fi

Over the last year there have been several reports within the scientific community and more recently in the commercial telecommunications industry, detailing the future possibility of delivering connectivity via infrared rays instead of radio waves.

In this article, we explore the science behind how these light-driven networks could work, as well as how it will differ from conventional Wi-Fi and when we can expect to see it rolled out (if at all).

How would it work?

With standard Wi-fi, users are able to connect to ‘hotspots’, where data is sent using radio waves via a wireless router. New light-based technology would work in a very similar way, in that central ‘antennas’ would connect directly to the network with optical fibres. However, instead of radio waves the antennas would emit rays of infrared light. These could be ceiling or wall mounted for best connectivity, or even placed on a desktop within commercial environments.

A pair of gratings will be housed within the antennas, and would radiate rays of light of multiple wavelengths and at different angles to spread the connectivity area.

One of the most impressive details of new light-based connectivity is that the capacity of a single ray of light is more than 40Gbit/s.

It all sounds great but there’s a problem, what about walls?

One of the reasons current Wi-fi technology is so popular is because the radio waves that carry the data can travel through most objects, meaning that moving around within a hotspot isn’t a major issue when you are using the network. However, infrared light cannot pass through most everyday objects. Instead they spread out on impact. So how could this technology possibly be viable in busy, built-up environments like cafes, shopping centres, offices or on the move?

Well, rather than with Wi-fi routers, proposed setup of Li-fi technology would need to include antennas in multiple locations, so that when a user moves out of the line of sight another could take over. The user’s device would automatically and simultaneously connect and disconnect to each antenna as they pass through the environment. There would be no interference and the user wouldn’t notice a ‘dip’ in connectivity.

Financial and environmental costs

It has been proposed that a li-fi based system would be simple and cheap to set up. That’s because the antennas would be maintenance free as they wouldn’t contain any moving parts, also keeping ongoing operational costs to a minimum, if not zero. Not only that but they would substantially reduce environmental impacts of current Wi-fi systems because they require no power supply to be operational. A win-win for consumers and businesses looking to reduce their footprint.

When can we expect to see Li-fi in operation?

There is still a way to go in developing and fine tuning the technologies required to make the concept work in a commercial environment. For example, location tracking of devices that are moving within the network still needs to be developed to allow users to switch between antennas; and the fibre-optic network that would connect these antennas also needs to be worked on.

According to professionals in this field, they have estimated that this technology could be available on the high-street in around five years but the development of the technology and science behind Li-Fi and in particular the ability to carry data via photos rather than electrons is still very new so there could be more obstacles to overcome before this concept becomes a reality.



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