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article image'Li-Fi' could be coming soon — Wireless 100x faster than Wi-Fi

By James Walker     Nov 26, 2015 in Technology
Developments in wireless networking over the past few years have seen Wi-Fi become faster and more reliable than ever. It's still far from perfect though, and now new tech known as 'Li-Fi' threatens to supersede it, boasting 100 times greater performance.
Li-Fi replaces the radio waves of Wi-Fi with light signals. Wi-Fi typically uses the 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio bands, both of which have a tendency to slow down as more devices are added.
Li-Fi solves this problem by boasting 100 times greater performance than the typical Wi-Fi connection today. Pocket-Lint reports lab tests have pushed peak transfer rates to an astounding 224 gigabits per second. In a real-world experiment conducted this week, researchers saw 1GB per second being pushed through the network.
Li-Fi is based around a protocol known as Visible Light Communication (VLC). It essentially involves toggling a light switch thousands of times every second to create a stream of "on" and "off" pulses that can be interpreted as binary bits. It works in a similar fashion to Morse code and currently uses the 400 and 800 THz (terahertz) bands.
Li-Fi was invented by Harold Haas at the University of Edinburgh in 2011. He discovered that flickering an LED could transfer data much more rapidly than a typical cell tower can. Since then, Haas and fellow researchers have developed the system and built VLC into a viable technology that is beginning to see real-world use.
The technology can be used to provide Internet access from light bulbs, letting one device offer both services. The billions of light bulbs used worldwide could be converted to simultaneously operate as Internet access points and routers, providing an alternative connection method to mobile data and Wi-Fi.
"Alternative" connection is the key here as currently even Li-Fi's developers don't see it replacing Wi-Fi altogether for a while to come. There are serious limitations with the technology, such as the obvious predicament presented by the presence of a wall. The structure may degrade a Wi-Fi connection but with Li-Fi it severs it completely.
Light can't pass through walls, making Li-Fi unsuitable for use in the home unless every light-bulb is fitted out as a router and connected to each other. It doesn't necessarily have such negative consequences in other scenarios though.
The issue is actually being touted as a "feature," with researchers developing the tech saying it offers improved security in a corporate environment. For example, it prevents attackers sitting outside a business and using an exposed Wi-Fi hotspot to access its network.
There are other advantages too. The massive speed increase bodes well for the future of ever-growing file sizes and the absence of radio waves all but removes the issue of devices interfering with each other as they compete for airspace.
Li-Fi isn't an immediate successor to Wi-Fi then but rather an emerging technology to look out for over the next few years. Currently, developers envision devices being able to seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi, Li-Fi and mobile data at will, choosing the one most applicable for the location the user is in. The system is already being investigated for deployment in some hospitals in Northern France.
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