At A Glance – LiFi

A new alternative to WiFi sheds light on radio spectrum struggles

Our internet usage is growing, but the radio spectrum is not. In the face of demand from more people and applications, radio is becoming increasingly crowded. Luckily, there is an alternative: LiFi. LiFi, which stands for Light Fidelity, was coined in 2011 by Professor Harald Haas and refers to the transmission of data via light. Information is embedded in light beams which flicker at a rate 10 times faster than those emitted from TV screens and other monitors.

Currently, LiFi remains very much in the development stages. A LiFi lamp was showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and Philips Lighting now provides LiFi to French company Icade. At the moment, Philips’ LiFi operates at 30Mbps, which is relatively slow compared to existing WiFi speeds. However, increased R&D will lead to faster services. Eventually, entire cities could be connected via LiFi enabled lighting like street lamps. Devices will initially require a specific LiFi detection dongle, but receptive components could be gradually phased into manufacturing.

While there is a long way to go before your desk lamp powers your laptop, LiFi has 2,600 times the capacity of the radio spectrum. This means that our data needs for the next 20 years could be met using just 0.8 per cent of the entire light spectrum. In other words, LiFi could make connectivity more accessible than ever before. It may also answer cybersecurity concerns surrounding WiFi networks through ease of containment. If you can contain the light source, you can contain the data without encryption or passwords. Perhaps the biggest challenge for LiFi providers will be ensuring security at scale.