Internet by light promises to leave Wi-Fi eating dust

February 23, 2016 by Laure Fillon
The Li-Fi technology uses the frequencies generated by LED lights to beam information through the air
The Li-Fi technology uses the frequencies generated by LED lights to beam information through the air

Connecting your smartphone to the web with just a lamp—that is the promise of Li-Fi, featuring Internet access 100 times faster than Wi-Fi with revolutionary wireless technology.

French start-up Oledcomm demonstrated the technology at the Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest mobile fair, in Barcelona. As soon as a smartphone was placed under an office lamp, it started playing a video.

The big advantage of Li-Fi, short for "light fidelity", is its lightning speed.

Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of over 200 Gbps—fast enough to "download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second", the founder and head of Oledcomm, Suat Topsu, told AFP.

"Li-Fi allows speeds that are 100 times faster than Wi-Fi" which uses radio waves to transmit data, he added.

The technology uses the frequencies generated by LED bulbs—which flicker on and off imperceptibly thousands of times a second—to beam information through the air, leading it to be dubbed the "digital equivalent of Morse Code".

It started making its way out of laboratories in 2015 to be tested in everyday settings in France, a Li-Fi pioneer, such as a museums and shopping malls. It has also seen test runs in Belgium, Estonia and India.

A delegate checks his smartphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, on February 22, 2016
A delegate checks his smartphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, on February 22, 2016

Dutch medical equipment and lighting group Philips is reportedly interested in the technology and Apple may integrate it in its next smartphone, the iPhone7, due out at the end of the year, according to tech media.

With analysts predicting the number of objects that are connected to the Internet soaring to 50 million by 2020 and the spectrum for radio waves used by Wi-Fi in short supply, Li-Fi offers a viable alternative, according to its promoters.

"We are going to connect our coffee machine, our washing machine, our tooth brush. But you can't have more than ten objects connected in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi without interference," said Topsu.

Deepak Solanki, the founder and chief executive of Estonian firm Velmenni which tested Li-fi in an industrial space last year, told AFP he expected that "two years down the line the technology can be commercialised and people can see its use at different levels."

Li-Fi has been tested in France, Belgium, Estonia and India
Li-Fi has been tested in France, Belgium, Estonia and India

'Still laboratory technology'

Analysts said it was still hard to say if Li-Fi will become the new Wi-Fi.

"It is still a laboratory technology," said Frederic Sarrat, an analyst and consultancy firm PwC.

How does visible light communications (VLC) work? Credit: pureLiFi

Much will depend on how Wi-Fi evolves in the coming years, said Gartner chief analyst Jim Tully.

"Wi-Fi has shown a capability to continuously increase its communication speed with each successive generation of the technology," he told AFP.

Li-fi has its drawbacks—it only works if a smartphone or other device is placed directly in the light and it cannot travel through walls.

Li-Fi (Light-Fidelity) has reached speeds of over 200 Gbps
Li-Fi (Light-Fidelity) has reached speeds of over 200 Gbps

This restricts its use to smaller spaces, but Tully said this could limit the risk of data theft.

"Unlike Wi-Fi, Li-Fi can potentially be directed and beamed at a particular user in order to enhance the privacy of transmissions," he said.

Backers of Li-Fi say it would also be ideal in places where Wi-Fi is restricted to some areas such as schools and hospitals.

"Li-fi has a place in hospitals because it does not create interference with medical materials," said Joel Denimal, head of French lighting manufacturer Coolight.

French start-up Oledcomm has unveiled its Li-Fi technology system—which uses light to connect users to the Internet
French start-up Oledcomm has unveiled its Li-Fi technology system—which uses light to connect users to the Internet

In supermarkets it could be used to give information about a product, or in museums about a painting, by using lamps placed nearby.

It could also be useful on aircraft, in underground garages and any place where lack of Internet connection is an issue.

But Li-Fi also requires that devices be equipped with additional technology such as a card reader, or dongle, to function. This gives it a "cost disadvantage", said Tully.

Explore further: Google's free Wi-Fi extends to the sky, on planes

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34 comments

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antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Feb 23, 2016
As soon as a smartphone was placed under an office lamp, it started playing a video.

What if I want to be in a darkened room...because I want to watch a video?

(just kidding. I know this is also works in the IR range)

"We are going to connect our coffee machine, our washing machine, our tooth brush

Really? And what would be the benefit of connecting my toothbrush? Or coffee machine? (OK...I could come up with a hare-brained scheme for why I'd want my washing machine connected...but even that is pretty marginal)
axemaster
5 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
I really kind of wish this isn't going to happen, because the optical interference is going to wreak havok with a lot of analog technologies... including some stuff I've developed. Not to mention the wideband RF interference that will happen, though hopefully that won't be too bad.
PhotonX
4.4 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2016
And what would be the benefit of connecting my toothbrush?
Dental hygiene could be tracked as an incentive to brush longer and/or more often, not unlike monitors that track activity in a personal training exercise regimen. I know that seems like a minor app, but I could probably pay for a Mercedes with the amount of treasure I've invested in my mouth over the decades, and any incentive to take better care of myself in that regard could have paid huge dividends.
.
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axemaster
5 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2016
Plus I would also point out that the bandwidth issue wouldn't be so bad if the FCC would allocate more than a tiny sliver of spectrum to the public.
MR166
4.8 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
I can see this as being a product with real applications but Terahertz Wi-Fi is just around the corner and will be easier to implement. Also, note this will not really increase speeds for the average home user since internet speeds will be the limiting factor. The best part of the device is it's security and lack of interference in crowded environments such as an apartment building.
MR166
5 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
"Dental hygiene could be tracked as an incentive to brush longer and/or more often, not unlike monitors that track activity in a personal training exercise regimen. I know that seems like a minor app, but I could probably pay for a Mercedes with the amount of treasure I've invested in my mouth over the decades, and any incentive to take better care of myself in that regard could have paid huge dividends."

Yea, that could be combined with a lock on the TV. No TV for you until you brush your teeth!
Phil DePayne
not rated yet Feb 23, 2016
I can see a time when ConEd pipes ip telephony, internet access, power, streaming tv, all through your power supply fed into your home and led bulbs, and we would only get a single bill for everything
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (9) Feb 23, 2016
Dental hygiene could be tracked as an incentive to brush longer and/or more often

It sometimes just seems that companies are desparately trying to find uses for this internet-of-things where there really aren't any. A simple tootbrush with a timer will do just fine (got one of those. It just stops the motor for a short interval after the proper time).
It's the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). Overcomplication does not automatically add a benefit.

Most of all I don't want my toothbrush hacked or a burglar to detemine whether I'm about to leave my home based on the activity of my toothbrush - thank you very much.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2016
Most of all I don't want my toothbrush hacked or a burglar to determine whether I'm about to leave my home based on the activity of my toothbrush - thank you very much.
If the burglar's smart enough to hack your toothbrush, then it's also smart enough to know that your smart house will report nefarious activities even before entry is gained.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 23, 2016
"I can see a time when ConEd pipes ip telephony, internet access, power, streaming tv, all through your power supply fed into your home and led bulbs, and we would only get a single bill for everything"

This tech. does not allow internet over the power lines, thus the electric companies have no real interest here. At best, the electric companies could talk to their electric meters over the power lines since the available data rates are way too slow.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
If the burglar's smart enough to hack your toothbrush, then it's also smart enough to know that your smart house will report nefarious activities even before entry is gained.
@proto
not so sure... it is the LEAST likely to be secured by any high-dollar security, and almost a sure bet as to the homeowners absence or presence...
Also, there is a huge difference between a SMART criminal and a TYPICAL one

people take time and consider locking up valuables, documents, important stuff.. things they don't want others to snoop at.... how many people today keep their toothbrush under lock and key? keep their bathrooms locked? etc??

a smart criminal does their homework first (these are the least likely to be caught)
the TYPICAL criminal, however, is a moron and usually makes stupid mistakes
LED Guy
5 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2016
A lot of hype and only a little real potential benefit. All this talk about freeing up the Wi-Fi spectrum and no attention to how the light bulb will be connected to the internet. Are you going to pull CAT5 cable through your house and plug it into every light bulb? What if the bulb is connected to a table lamp?

The only realistic way to get every light bulb connected is Wi-Fi. So Li-Fi is going to free up Wi-Fi bandwidth by using more Wi-Fi bandwidth?
LED Guy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2016
Now for a quick back of the envelope reality check.

200 Gbits/sec (200 GHz) equates to a pulse duration of 0.005 nsec. LED rise time is on the order of 1-2 nsec and even that requires very special drive electronics. The decay time of the phosphors used to make white LEDs used for general illumination is 10s of nsec. So much for the claims of ultimate speed.

Even worse, in 0.005 nsec light itself only travels about 1.5 mm. That is on the order of the same size as the LED chips themselves. You can't pulse them in a time period shorter than the time it takes light to cross the chip.

You can always argue that you can use multiple wavelengths of light to increase the effective bandwidth, but now you have dozens of sub nanosecond pulse generators in a light bulb (like that's going to be affordable).
LED Guy
not rated yet Feb 23, 2016
The analysis above is based on bits, not bytes. Even an 8 bit byte (who uses those any more) pushes to 1,600 GHz and light only has time to travel 0.187 mm. The smallest LED chips used for lighting are about 0.3 mm on a side so light doesn't even have time to cross an LED chip. (The bond pads for wire bonding on the LED chips are about 0.1mm).

A 32 bit byte means 6,400 GHz and light only has time to travel 0.0467mm (46.8 microns)! That means light can't even travel from the center of a bond pad to the edge of the bond pad.

Going back to multiple channels at 200 GHz, the 1.5mm number means that the distance between each LED channel and your detector has to be known to within a few tenths of a mm.

The arguments/discussions about the enormous theoretical bandwidth of LEDs are along the lines of discussions the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
Old_C_Code
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2016
Surely better for your health than a body bath of RF.
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
"Surely better for your health than a body bath of RF. "

That has never been proven despite many research papers. Your WiFi puts out about 400 Milliwatts. and it is many meters from you most of the time. Whereas your cellphone puts out about 2 watts max when transmitting and is much less than a meter away most of the time.

People who do not want cellphone towers within their view use this bogus RF radiation issue as a tool to block approvals.
Old_C_Code
3 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2016
That has never been proven despite many research papers. Your WiFi puts out about 400 Milliwatts. and it is many meters from you most of the time. Whereas your cellphone puts out about 2 watts max when transmitting and is much less than a meter away most of the time.


Oh, beta radiation is healthy now? Communications industry says beta radiation is healthy!!! Yeay!!! (Idiot).

Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2016
I can see a time when ConEd pipes ip telephony, internet access, power, streaming tv, all through your power supply fed into your home and led bulbs, and we would only get a single bill for everything

Think that's CoMMEd. Anyway, it would probly be a BIG single bill...:-)
Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (7) Feb 23, 2016
That has never been proven despite many research papers. Your WiFi puts out about 400 Milliwatts. and it is many meters from you most of the time. Whereas your cellphone puts out about 2 watts max when transmitting and is much less than a meter away most of the time.


Oh, beta radiation is healthy now? Communications industry says beta radiation is healthy!!! Yeay!!! (Idiot).


Well that is a good theory you are implying there. But Cher, one thing, radios, cell phones and wifi don't emit beta radiation. RF is photons. Beta radiation is electrons from nuclear decay, but other than that pesky little thing, maybe you are on to someting, eh? Now exactly why was it you call them the idiots?
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2016
The arguments/discussions about the enormous theoretical bandwidth of LEDs are along the lines of discussions the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
It may sound counter-intuitive that the shorter wavelengths of optical light have more room for information than the longer wavelengths of the radio wave portion of the spectrum, but by making use of the time domain, "the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger than the entire radio frequency spectrum." See the Wiki: Li-Fi, and you may also want to read up on optical orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (O-OFDM)...
24volts
not rated yet Feb 24, 2016
"I can see a time when ConEd pipes ip telephony, internet access, power, streaming tv, all through your power supply fed into your home and led bulbs, and we would only get a single bill for everything"

This tech. does not allow internet over the power lines, thus the electric companies have no real interest here. At best, the electric companies could talk to their electric meters over the power lines since the available data rates are way too slow.

It's already been tried a number of years ago for internet access and it didn't work very well. It also caused all kinds of interference with various radio systems.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2016
It's already been tried a number of years ago for internet access
@24v
not being facetious... do you have a link for that?

I would like to read up on it,
Thanks in advance
24volts
not rated yet Feb 24, 2016
I can see where it would be useful to use instead of blue tooth. I sometimes have a hard time trying to get my headphones to work with my computer instead of my wife's. SInce our computers are in different rooms it would solve that problem completely.
rrrander
not rated yet Feb 24, 2016
Problem with all of this is the RF interference caused by the current wifi or the control circuits of the light wifi. It's like the manufacturers and regulators just gave up trying to set standards for RF interference.
michael_frishberg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2016


The arguments/discussions about the enormous theoretical bandwidth of LEDs are along the lines of discussions the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

In ancient times, I worked in telecom/networking software and hardware.
What protocol will be used to allow for multiple users?
Packet addressing takes up bandwidth too.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2016
The analysis above is based on bits, not bytes. Even an 8 bit byte (who uses those any more) pushes to 1,600 GHz and light only has time to travel 0.187 mm. The smallest LED chips used for lighting are about 0.3 mm on a side so light doesn't even have time to cross an LED chip. (The bond pads for wire bonding on the LED chips are about 0.1mm).

A 32 bit byte means 6,400 GHz and light only has time to travel 0.0467mm (46.8 microns)! That means light can't even travel from the center of a bond pad to the edge of the bond pad.

Going back to multiple channels at 200 GHz, the 1.5mm number means that the distance between each LED channel and your detector has to be known to within a few tenths of a mm.

The arguments/discussions about the enormous theoretical bandwidth of LEDs are along the lines of discussions the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

I get the impression you are talking about 1 bit per wave. Aren't they just using light as a carrier wave?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2016
It's already been tried a number of years ago for internet access
@24v
not being facetious... do you have a link for that?

I would like to read up on it,
Thanks in advance

Cap'n. A company from San Antone had it working over IR back in the late 70's and early 80's. Datapoint. I forget the actual product name, but we were running Arcnet and early Ethernet for campus settings. Didn't work worth a crap on foggy days...:-)
Psilly_T
5 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2016
coolaf
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2016
Cap'n. A company from San Antone had it working over IR back in the late 70's and early 80's. Datapoint. I forget the actual product name, but we were running Arcnet and early Ethernet for campus settings. Didn't work worth a crap on foggy days...:-)
@Whyde
thanks... i will keep looking
maybe that will be enough to find something

as in San Antonio? Dick's Last Resort? Riverwalk and the crappy overcrowded 410/1604 loops?
UGH... lived in Universal City for a short while...
loved Enchanted Rock though!
(and Blue Bell Ice Cream)
LOL
garyneale
not rated yet Feb 25, 2016
antialias - thay want you to conect your tooth brush,washing machine etc. to the internet not for your advantage but for powers that be - i.e. so that electric companys can switch off your things during times of high demand!!
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2016
- i.e. so that electric companys can switch off your things during times of high demand!!
@garyneale
you mean kinda like a brown-out?
https://en.wikipe...icity%29

IMHO, it would have to be a very complex system to actually monitor all local connected non-required electrical use just to reduce waste like that... it would be far easier just to use a brown-out than build that kind of capability (anecdotal: brownout is done sometimes in our area for load reduction)
And123
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2016
(just kidding. I know this is also works in the IR range)


ooo too funny, dipshit, way too funny
garyneale
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2016
Captain stumpie,yes a brown out would be a typical situation!
c0y0te
not rated yet Feb 28, 2016
23 single layer DVDs is about 108 GB. To transfer them in one second you would need close to 1 Tbps. Am I missing something?

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