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Trick of the light

Nov 2016 Lighting, Smart Homes | Comments Off on Trick of the light
Trick of the light

We need to light our offices, homes and streets, so why not use that light to also power our wireless data? LiFi offers a secure and safe communications solution, says pureLiFi

Imagine if every light could transmit data – if the lights that illuminate offices, homes, cars and streets also connected us to the internet and serviced the ever-growing demand for connectivity.

LiFi – light fidelity – is a term coined by pureLiFi co-founder and CSO, Professor Harald Haas, when he demonstrated LiFi for the first time at a TED talk in 2011. LiFi is a high-speed, bidirectional, networked and mobile wireless communication that uses the light spectrum to provide a user experience similar to traditional wireless systems.

The technology has come a long way since 2011. In 2016, pureLiFi – which is an Edinburgh University spin-out – released LiFi-X, which consists of an access point that connects to any LED light, and a business card-sized dongle. The dongle is the world’s first to unlock a truly mobile wireless LiFi solution and can be operated from any USB 2.0 enabled mobile device.

Additionally, through collaboration, pureLiFi was able to release the world’s first LiFi integrated luminaire, providing a commercial product that integrates seamlessly with existing LED lighting infrastructures.

With developments in WiFi technology and widespread access to relatively fast cellular networks, you might ask why we need more wireless solutions? In fact, we are facing a global bandwidth shortage.

Each year our lives become increasingly digital: people work remotely, shop remotely, push continuous data to the cloud and do it all while on the move. LiFi could unlock solutions that help us realise our digital future.

Connectivity drives demand

We live in an increasingly connected world that is creating an unprecedented demand for wireless services. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, demand for mobile wireless communications is increasing at more than 50% per year.

This demand is expected to increase substantially as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality, and the number of connected devices grows from 5 billion to more than 20 billion by 2020, according to research by Gartner.

However, these services are becoming the victims of their own success. To increase the capacity of wireless networks, an additional unutilised spectrum is required and, in the case of WiFi, it needs to be unlicensed. This is where LiFi can deliver in a big way.

It is important to remember that radio frequency (RF) is only one part of the electromagnetic spectrum and that (visible) light has, for the most part, been an underutilised share of this spectrum.

Visible-light stretches from approximately 430 to 770 Terahertz, which means that there is potentially more than 1000x the bandwidth of the RF portion. Through this, LiFi has the opportunity to deliver unprecedented data and bandwidth.

As part of the incoming 5G framework, LiFi could be the enabler for fast and secure wireless networks that will service our wirelessly connected future.

Security in a vulnerable space

You only have to look at your smartphone to see the number of available WiFi access points in your home, office and public spaces. Don’t forget – if you can see everyone, everyone can see you.

Security is no longer a simple matter of locking our doors at night. All of our personal and vital information is stored somewhere online, from our financial and medical records to our family photos and private emails.

The explosion in the number of mobile devices has been accompanied by a rise in fraudulent activity. In the rush to provide market-ready solutions for the IoT, companies have often neglected cyber security requirements for their products, increasing the opportunities for online attacks.

The benefits of light

Light is very directional, well understood and easily confined. A cone of light from a luminaire can be strictly defined and therefore allow for greater control over the area in which data can be accessed. Fundamentally, light does not travel through walls, which also means it can be enclosed and physically ‘locked’ in a room.

LiFi also supports very effective location services, which mean additional layers of authentication can be enabled. The culmination of these features means that LiFi can be the answer to unlocking the secure and fast wireless communication our connected future so desperately needs.

New opportunities and markets

LiFi is poised not only to revolutionise the way we access wireless data by unlocking unprecedented data and bandwidth, but it will also act as a catalyst for the merger of two enormous industries: lighting and communications. This will result in the creation of new opportunities and new markets.

Gone are the days when lightbulbs needed to be changed as often as printer ink. The estimated useful life of a LED lightbulb is between 35,000 and 50,000 hours which equates to more than 11x a typical halogen bulb.

Imagine the transformation of the lighting industry into an industry that provides light and data as a service: LiFi makes this possible.

PureLiFi’s most recent collaboration with French lighting company Lucibel has resulted in the world’s first LiFi integrated luminaire, which has been released into the market. Consequently, LiFi is being installed for enterprise communications in the headquarters of property developers Nexity and Sogeprom in Paris, which are taking advantage of the combination of future-proof capacity combined with the flexibility, security and energy efficiency of LiFi solutions.

Bright future

The technical challenges of LiFi are being overcome and the commercial challenges addressed. LiFi offers a secure and safe, wireless communications solution that repurposes the energy used for lighting to provide wireless data. We need to light our offices, homes and streets, so why not use that light to also power our wireless data? This technology is planned to be a key part of the 5G framework that will service future mobile communications.

The pervasive nature of light sources means that LiFi has the ability to guarantee seamless and mobile wireless services. No longer will light simply illuminate our spaces; lighting will unlock new pathways into an ever-connected world.