PureLiFi may have the answer to the wireless spectrum overcrowding challenge with its plans to use light to transmit data.
Towns and cities are not only crowded in the physical sense, teeming with people and vehicles and high-rise buildings. The airwaves around us are alive with data – voices fighting to be heard in a narrow radio spectrum. In recent years, this has been alleviated somewhat by the introduction of the 5Ghz band to WiFi standards.
However, with 20 billion IoT devices predicted to be in use by 2020, it’s only a matter of time before our networks outgrow current capabilities.
Edinburgh-based company pureLiFi thinks it has the answer. By using light to transmit data, it can utilize a spectrum 1,000 times greater than that used for radio frequencies – giving us the bandwidth required to transmit vast amounts of data wirelessly over short distances. These sorts of use cases, such as in homes, offices and cafes, are currently responsible for the majority of our wireless data use.
The latest in LiFi
The company’s most recent release is the world’s first certified, complete LiFi system. The Lifi-XC, is a plug-and-play device that shrinks previous iterations of PureLiFi’s technology, vastly improving its usefulness.
“Over the past year, we have been driving adoption of LiFi and deploying real-world applications of LiFi for our customers globally. We have now reached the point in miniaturization where we will see LiFi move beyond the dongle and be integrated,” said Alistair Banham, CEO of pureLiFi.
“The LiFi-XC is a big step towards getting this disruptive technology into every bulb and every mobile device”
How Lifi is lighting the way
We’re not new to using light to transmit data. From signal fires, mirrors and gas lamps, to the fibreoptic cables and IR remotes we use today, we’ve been using it for millennia. LiFi is yet another type of Optical Wireless Communications [OWC]. However, it differs in that the same light energy used for illumination may also be utilised for communication – an appealingly efficient use of energy.
An enabled LED light can modulate the intensity of light (imperceptibly to the human eye), which can then be received by a photo-sensitive devices. This signal is then converted into electronic form. The high intensities of off-the-shelf LEDs make them well suited to high-speed data transfer.
PureLifi is also keen to emphasise the improvements it has made to its products’ ease of use. “The LiFi-XC is not just an accomplishment in reduced form factor, we have also made substantial leaps in delivering a great user experience,” says chief technology officer Mostafa Afgani.
“The LiFi-XC offers plug and play connectivity out of the box and supports an even wider range of off the shelf LEDs. We have not just improved the design with LiFi-XC – we have also delivered a module that can enable smart devices and appliances to be LiFi connected today.”
Potential uses of LiFi
I have some concerns over the security of LiFi. One of PureLiFi’s videos suggests closing the blinds to secure your network, which, for all the futuristic allure of the technology, seems archaic and flawed. On the other hand, you can’t similarly prevent WiFi signal from leaking beyond the four walls of a building.
PureLiFi promotes the apparent safety that comes with the ability to define the communication areas of access points – enabling precise partitioning of the office environment. Connection also requires proprietary hardware before anyone can access the system. These claims are reinforced by BT Defence’s use of the technology.
It’s easy to see how this tech could be used in smart cities, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and other smart transport solutions, thanks to the widespread use of LEDs. One particularly interesting user case is in hospital environments. LiFi doesn’t cause electromagnetic interference, nor is it affected by MRI scanners – something petrochemical plants also stand to benefit from.
It doesn’t look like widespread adoption is imminent, but the technology boasts several advantages over WiFi in more specialised environments. Longer term, as our WiFi networks reach saturation point, LiFi’s 1,000-times higher data density will make it an appealing alternative.