Internet at the Speed of LiFi [Flash Forward Fridays]

data streams emitting from light

Flash Forward Fridays

For the past few decades, technology has been evolving at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rate. In this biweekly column, Insights Staff Writer Kristin Manganello will be peeling back the curtain of the present and exploring the developing technologies that may soon become standard in the not-so-distant future.


In the early days of the internet, people connected to the web via a dial-up connection. Many of us remember the days of that loud modem noise followed by a cheerily robotic voice informing us that we got mail.

This method of internet connection was slow, clunky, and limited. However, we had nothing to compare it to, so initially, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

However, things didn’t stay slow for long. The technology evolved, and along came things like cable internet access, DSL, Wi-Fi, and eventually 4G for mobile computing – each method faster than the last.

Today, internet connections that are strong and fast are held in the highest regard. Even though things are pretty fast now, they could, of course, always be faster.

Connected by Light

That’s where Li-Fi comes in. Standing for “Light Fidelity,” Li-Fi is a type of wireless visible light communication (VLC) technology that utilizes light to transmit data between devices. The phrase was coined by Harald Haas, a communications technology pioneer and innovator, during his presentation at the 2011 TED Global Talk.

Haas and his partner Dr. Mostafa Afgani co-founded pureLiFi, the first company to bring a commercial Li-Fi product to market. Together, they envisioned a reality in which a common LED light bulb could illuminate not just a dark room, but an entire world.

Their website explains how the technology works. “Li-Fi uses light to send wireless data embedded in its beam. A Li-Fi enabled device converts the beam of light into an electrical signal. The signal is then converted back into data,” the site notes. “The device sends back data using invisible light. Li-Fi is high speed bi-directional and fully networked light communications.”

Super Fast Speed

What makes Li-Fi so exciting is that it’s wicked fast.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Oxford were able to achieve speeds of 224 gigabits per second (Gbps). To put this in perspective, consider this – it takes only one megabit per second (Mbps) to browse the internet, use social media, and check your email. And one Mbps is equal to 1000th of a Gbps.

Sounds great, but is it overkill?

Is 224 Gbps really necessary for most people?

Maybe not quite yet, but don’t be surprised if it soon becomes a standard feature in automated homes and buildings. The Internet of Things is already a powerful system, but integrating it with Li-Fi technologies can elevate it to the next level. Each light fixture in a building could potentially be used to communicate data across any distance in basically an instant.

Although Li-Fi isn’t being used on a broad scale yet, the Li-Fi Research and Development Center at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland see a massive amount of applications that it could be used in, including security, augmented reality, transportation, and more.

Image Credit: BeeBright / Shutterstock.com

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