Is LI-FI the future of WIFI?

In the last few years a new technology has emerged in the telecommunications universe, it is known as LI-FI: an acronym of the English term light fidelityLI-FI-, a term used to name high speed wireless data transmission systems that use light as a transmission medium, in the same way that optical fiber or a DVD does, but in this case using the electromagnetic spectrum as a transmission medium.

So far, the different measurements made by laboratories around the world show that it can be approximately 100 times faster than WIFI technology, achieving speeds of up to 224 gigabits per second in experimental tests and with a level of immunity to electrical noise that is practically non-existent.

The LI-FI uses visible or near ultraviolet (UV) light between approximately 400 nm and 15 nm and near infrared (NIR) light around 780 ηm and up to 3000 ηm of the electromagnetic spectrum, unlike WIFI, which uses radio frequencies at 2.4mhz and 5.8 mhz, in a highly contaminated and congested portion of the spectrum.

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Will LI-FI replace WIFI as a short-range wireless transmission technology?

The LI-FI promises to be a technology that solves the main problems of WIFI, on the one hand, the electrical noise that significantly affects the radio frequency signals used by all existing networks is excluded. The LI-FI is a light signal that guarantees optimal reception without interference in the area indicated for reception, due to the specificity of the spectrum it uses and the impossibility of exceeding the coverage area it was designed for (it may not cross physical barriers). On the other hand, as with optical fiber, transmission speeds can be much higher without requiring extremely sophisticated equipment or much additional infrastructure, so with the LI-FI speeds per user can be in Giga, unlike WIFI where a single Giga for the entire system seems to be science fiction.

It might be said that Harald Haas is the creator of LI-FI, since as a professor at the University of Edinburgh, president of Mobile Communications and co-founder of the company PureLiFien in the United Kingdom, he was the one who introduced the term and technology during TED Global Talk in 2011, where he presented the idea of “wireless data from every focus” under the cover of a large project called D-Light, which began in 2010 and was financed until 2012 by the Digital Communications of the Edinburgh Institute. However, four organizations interested in developing the technology founded the Li-Fi Consortium in October 2011 and a few months later the term was accepted and included by the IEEE 802.15.7 Standardization Committee

The LI-FI utilizes a technology that uses light originating from light-emitting diodes: LEDs, using a light bulb as a means of transmission, simulating the behavior of a WIFI network through the interruption in the emission of light waves, creating the necessary binarism of ones and zeros in all digital processes, working in a blinking mode, connecting and turning off the power of the LEDs at high speed, all of the above, without the human eye being able to perceive it.

So far, the different systems and LED prototypes that have been produced, have proven to be fully compatible with conventional lighting systems, without generating apparent interference between them.

But even though this technology seems to be almost perfect, undoubtedly one of its greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness, since being unable to pass through objects, the light waves emitted by the system are short or at least limited to a geographical space where there are no physical barriers that prevent the passage of light. For example, in a conventional house, a LED transmitter or transmission sensor would be needed for each environment separated by the walls, that is to say, one for each room, the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the garage, etc. The same happens in a factory or an office, which would undoubtedly increase significantly the operation costs, since generally only one WIFI Router is required to provide coverage in a construction that does not exceed 100 meters.

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As we warned before, the weaknesses are also strengths that are not negligible, because the decrease of the interference is very significant, since there is no risk that the LI-FI of a neighbor generates interference in our home, having the certainty that the signal within our space is really our signal and not the residue of more than 20 neighbors who use the same frequencies.

On the other hand, the risk of someone hacking into our wireless network without permission is almost impossible, because in addition to the normal encryption protocols that wireless networks carry, the physical barrier such as walls or partitions that separate the spaces, are an additional guarantee that a hacker cannot hang himself from our network and steal our bandwidth or our personal data.

In the case of aircrafts, the LI-FI is undoubtedly the definitive solution, since it will avoid all existing fears regarding possible interference generated by radio frequencies, and although reliable WIFI systems exist today within aircrafts and companies such as Delta Airlines offer this service on all their flights, it would bring much more peace of mind and reliability to pilots, manufacturers, airlines and of course, passengers. Using light waves instead of radio frequency systems is the reason why, Airbus, is planning to incorporate LI-FI diodes in the near future for new aircraft being introduced to the market. Valentin Kretzschmar, an Airbus Aircraft Data Specialist, reported in 2017 that this technology will be present in aircraft long before it reaches the market, so Airbus is working with the company pureLiFi to incorporate not only transmitter-receiver diodes, but also a low-cost solution, such as a USB flash drive type receiver-transmitter, which will be delivered to passengers and can be easily connected to their computer.

For its part, the multinational computer company APPLE, in version 9.1 of IOS, the operating system used by iPhones included as a novelty a specific reference to LifiCapability, a protocol compatible with LI-FI technology, so it is possible to expect that the next versions of these devices will most likely incorporate the necessary technology for the reception and transmission of systems based on optical LEDs. Taking into account that Apple has historically been the company that defines the critical path of technological developments in the sector, it is very likely that Samsung, Huawei, Motorola and other competitors will follow suit and we will see, sooner rather than later, many cellular devices with this technology of transmitting and receiving diodes compatible with the LI-FI standard.

In conclusion, although LI-FI is a very promising technology that would solve most of the existing problems of WIFI, mainly interference and piracy, the extra costs required to incorporate a transmitter-receiver LED for each geographic space that demands coverage, will probably delay its massification, making both technologies coexist for some time, at least while manufacturers achieve economies of scale and significantly reduce costs.

In the case of Latin America, as long as broadband speeds are not improved, the high transmission capacities offered by the LI-Fi itself will not constitute a differential value, since it is useless to have a super highway in our living room, if the road to the Internet is a dirt road.

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However, in certain very specialized environments such as aircrafts, clinics and laboratories, this technology will most likely prevail as the only viable one in a few years, since the guarantee they offer of not interfering with other types of installed equipment, no other RF technology will be able to guarantee it.



Sergio A. Urquijo

Gabriel E. Levy B.