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What is Li-Fi and how does it work?

Author: Richard Bevan
Published: March 7, 2018

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In most simple terms, Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) is a way of wirelessly transmitting data through visible light. Unlike Wi-fi, which uses uses radio waves for transmission, Li-fi utilises light waves, which presents a number of key benefits:

  • Speed - Li-Fi is thought to be 100 times faster than standard Wi-fi.
  • Security - Because Li-fi transmits the internet via light, it effectively limits access to anyone within the same room as the light source. This makes is more difficult for outsiders to access private networks.
  • Availability - Whether in the home, office, or other commercial environment, Li-fi makes it possible for the internet to be available wherever there is a light source, i.e. virtually anywhere within a building.

Of course, Li-fi also has some disadvantages over Wi-fi, namely the fact it only works when the lights are turned on, which limits outdoor and night time usage. Also, the fact that light cannot pass through walls may be good for security, but it also limits the effectiveness of Li-fi in spaces that have lots of physical barriers.

Li-fi in action, via purelifi.com

Practical applications for Li-fi

The unique nature of Li-fi technology makes it particularly suitable for a variety of applications, both in domestic and commercial environments. For example:

  • Providing internet in densely populated spaces - Areas that are densely populated, such as hotels, shopping centres, or universities tend to have complete coverage from artificial lighting. This allows for a constant supply of fast internet access for users as they move through that space. Additionally, because light waves cannot penetrate walls, individual rooms can benefit from having an uninterrupted wireless connection, that isn't affected by a large number of people competing for internet access at the same time.
  • Localised advertising - Li-fi makes it possible to transmit advertising or promotional information through shop display lighting, allowing for more seamless shopping experiences.
  • Augmented reality - Li-fi can provide localised information within a single light source, which could be useful in museums, galleries, and similar environments, as information about exhibits can be downloaded to the visitor's device, directly from the light source illuminating the object they are looking at.
  • Underwater communication - Unlike radio waves which are quickly absorbed by water, light can penetrate at much longer distances.
  • Protecting sensitive data - Due to the localised nature of its signal output, Li-fi has the potential to increase security within environments which hold a lot of sensitive or valuable data. Healthcare, for example, is an industry which may benefit from the increased security of Li-fi technology in the near future.

Li-fi may not have gone mainstream yet, but there’s already plenty of businesses looking to this technology as a way of improving day-to-day efficiencies and customer experiences. One such example is the Best Western hotel chain, which put Li-fi front and centre in its ‘hotel rooms of the future’ event.

Speaking after the event, Best Western GB’s CEO Richard Lewis said, “LiFi is the future for the hospitality industry therefore we are delighted to showcase it for the first time”. As owners of hotels, bars, restaurants and other hospitality establishments seek to provide better experiences for their guests, and appease an increasingly mobile-centric population, emerging technologies such as Li-fi will become more and more important.

Whether Li-fi lives up to the hype is yet to be seen, but there’s no denying that this exciting new technology could be a huge game changer in a number of industries, as well as within the home. For more information about Li-fi and its applications check out www.lifi-centre.com.