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Transmitting data through… light?

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Introduction to Li-Fi

Despite the fact that it is not exactly new, this technology seems to fly over most people’s heads, which is a shame, as it is constantly developing. Li-Fi (light fidelity) refers to a method of transmitting data and position through the use of light. Since being introduced in 2011 by Professor Harald Haas, during a TEDGlobal talk in Edinburgh, it has sparked the interest of technology enthusiasts all over the world – which is hardly surprising if you consider that it could, theoretically, transmit data at 100Gbit/s, wirelessly. The idea is fairly simple; radio frequencies are being replaced by short beams of light, created by LEDs switching on and off at incredible speeds. The process is too fast for a human eye to notice, making it impossible to see any flickering. Moreover, the intensity of light is irrelevant for this technology to work, so lit can be either very high or low. As for now, it is, unfortunately, only possible with the use of visible light, but it might evolve to ultraviolet or infrared in the future.

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Where could we use it?

Like with most groundbreaking technologies, attempting to imagine all of Li-Fi usages is futile. However, we (as a civilization) already have a fair share of ideas. Firstly, it can be just as simple as Wi-Fi replacement in our houses. The astounding transmitting speed can make our ethernet cables seem obsolete. Secondly, it may find exclusive uses in those rare places where Wi-Fi is unavailable. For those of us who tried connecting to the internet deep in an ocean, it is known that it’s pretty difficult to catch any signal. Well, since light is much better at going through the water than radio waves, Li-Fi might just be the solution. There are, of course, much more practical and relevant cases. Many Airlines, for example, forbid or restrict the usage of radio frequencies during flight. The situation is very similar in hospitals, where they can interfere with medical equipment. On top of that, Li-Fi could revolutionize transportation or security systems.

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So… What is the catch?

The main advantage Wi-Fi has over Li-Fi is quite obvious; radio frequencies are much better at going around places than light beams. Any device located in the vicinity of the signal source is able to catch the frequency. In order to connect to Li-Fi your device needs to be reachable by the transmitter’s beams, which might be easier said than done. Unfortunately, as for now, we are only able to use visible light, although ultraviolet and infrared spectrums aren’t entirely out of our reach. The other problem lies with the omnipresence of light in our world. Because of that, light pollution may become a huge inconvenience. Also, we cannot forget, it would take a lot of time for it to become compatible with other technologies.

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It is hard to dispute that light fidelity is, at the very least, an incredibly interesting idea. While the technology is still developing, I believe it has a huge potential. Currently, it appears to be suited mostly for niches (this might change when it’s much more mature) but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as start-ups thrive in those. Getting into the market now might result in considerable benefits in the future. However, it goes without saying that such moves are risky and require a certain level of patience; but who knows, maybe the revolution is closer than we expect and soon our ceiling lights will become much less ordinary.

Li-Fi (2020, May 25) in Wikipedia.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Li-Fi (2020, December 23) by pulkitagarwal03pulkit in GeeksforGeeks.

Applications of LiFi
photo 1: High-Speed Communication via LED Modulation by David Geer in Architect photo 2: Li-Fi Airplane in nextLiFi
Li-Fi Airplane
photo 3: IStock, Getty Images/iStockphoto Copyright: patpitchaya