It’s known as “Light Fidelity”, a new form of wireless data transmission that does away with radio signals in favor of optics. And much like the concept of an optic computer – which uses photons to transfer and store information rather than electrons – it’s long been considered as the next possible leap in internet technology. Hence why it was being demonstrated at this year’s Mobile World Congress – the world’s largest exhibition for members of the mobile phone, internet and IT industry.
Despite its monumental growth in the last decade, Wi-Fi remains somewhat hindered by the fact that it relies on microwaves in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, a radio spectrum which is limited. LiFi, however, relies on the transmission of light and could be deployed in everyday LED bulbs, covering the entire interior of a home or office. These LED bulbs would send information out in what appears to be a constant stream of light, but which is actually made up of millions of micropulses a second.
A system based on this would be capable of transferring far larger bundles of data than one based on microwaves. The system that was on display at MWC this year ran at 150 Mbps. But with a more powerful LED light, it could conceivably reach a rate of transfer equal to 3.5 gigabytes per second. That’s 210 gigabytes a minute, and 12.6 terabytes (that 12 and a half trillion bytes, people!) every hour, far in advance of what current WiFi offers (which maxes out at 450 mbps).
To put that in perspective, as of March 2014, the US Library of Congress estimated that their web had cataloged 525 terabytes of web archive data, with an addition 5 terabytes added every month. This means that a LiFi connection running at full capacity transfers in one hour what the Library of Congress processes in over two months! In short, the widespread use of LiFi would mean an explosion in information the likes of which has not been seen since the internet first went online.
Granted, there are still some limitations, like how any computer running off of LiFi needs a special adapted, and interrupting the light source will cause information transfers to cease. And I can’t help but wonder what micropulsing lights will do for people with epilepsy, not to mention the rest of us. However, such concerns are likely to be addressed long before LiFi sees any adoption on a grand scale, which is likely still a decade away at this point.
This year, the MWC conference took place in Barcelona, a place committed to the concept of the Internet of Everything (IoE) and the building of the world’s first truly “smart city”. In the coming months and years, I anticipate that this Spanish haven for technological innovation and integration will feature plenty of LiFi. So if you’re traveling there, you might want to look into getting an adapter for your laptop.
And in the meantime, enjoy this video – courtest of CNET First Look – that takes a look at this year’s LiFi demonstration at MWC 2014: