Connected lightbulbs could kill off Wi-Fi

The idea of connectivity passing via light into our devices may seem fanciful, but teams of researchers from Edinburgh and Estonia have created a system to do exactly that.

This so-called ‘Li-Fi’ technology works by flickering the light in a way that would be impossible to spot with the human eye. However, this flickering can be picked up by nearby machines and acts similarly to Morse code, sending messages across the air. Harald Haas, who first came up with the idea, discovered that one simple LED would be enough to transmit far more data than even a cellular tower.

Now, a team of Estonian researchers has taken the theory out of the lab and into a real-world environment. Though huge speeds were spoken of theoretically, it had yet to be proven that this was actually possible. In fact, the team reported achieving speeds of 1GB per second – which is 100 times faster than typical Wi-Fi speeds.

From Wi-Fi to Li-Fi

Back in the lab, it’s estimated that Li-Fi technology could even reach speeds of 224GB per second, or enough to download roughly 18 films a second.

Li-Fi could bring about great strides in the advancement of the Internet of Things, by sending small data packets to a huge number of devices, without coming under strain.

Even Li-Fi’s biggest drawback has been hailed as a potential positive. With light being unable to travel through walls, Li-Fi couldn’t be accessed from a different room to where it’s set up – as Wi-Fi currently does in homes and businesses across the country. This has its own benefit, though, in terms of security. Wi-Fi signals can be intercepted by third parties outside of a room, just by being within range of the hotspot – something that’s impossible with Li-Fi.

Extolling the benefits of this potentially revolutionary technology, Haas told sciencealert.com: “All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device and this would then combine two basic functionalities: illumination and wireless data transmission.

“In the future we will not only have 14 billion light bulbs, we may have 14 billion Li-Fis deployed worldwide for a cleaner, greener, and even brighter future.”

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