Wi-Fi is how we connect most of our devices to the Internet. The technology creates local area network using radio waves, and allows mobiles, tablets, laptops and other devices such as gaming consoles and smart TVs to get connected. Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous in both public and private spaces, with businesses and local governments providing it for free in most major cities across the globe. Li-Fi is a technology that uses light waves instead of radio waves to transmit data, and at a far greater speed too. This begs the question, will Li-Fi really replace Wi-Fi? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think.
What is Li-Fi?
The term “Li-Fi” was introduced to the world in a TED Talk in 2011 by Herald Haas. It was used to describe data transmission between devices using light, whether visible light, ultraviolet or infrared. At the moment, only LED lights are capable of transmitting data using light. Li-Fi does so by turning the light off and on at a speed not detectable by the human eye.
In other words, your overhead LED lights, or your bedside LED lamp would be lighting your room, but also connecting you to the Internet at speeds that far exceed Wi-Fi. Lab tests showed a possible maximum of 224 gigabits per second for Li-Fi, compared to the standard 1300 megabits per second for Wi-Fi.
Advantages of Li-Fi
Apart from the obvious speed advantage, Li-Fi could theoretically be more secure and less susceptible to hacking given the connection needs the device to be in direct sight of the transmitter. That’s because light cannot go through walls, like radio frequencies used by Wi-Fi can. This means that unless a hacker has a direct view of the bulb, or is using advanced tools such as a telephoto lens and a specially tuned optical sensor, they would not be able to try and hack into the network by simply being in the general vicinity of where the router would be, such as with Wi-Fi networks.
Of course, the need for an uninterrupted line-of-sight puts Li-Fi at a big disadvantage compared to Wi-Fi. If your router is in your study, you can still easily connect to it from another room separated by walls and doors. In the case of Li-Fi, you’d have to have these special LED lightbulbs in every room to ensure an uninterrupted, direct line-of-sight with your devices. Another major downside to Li-Fi, is it basically cannot work outdoors in sunlight or in environments with a lot of light pollution. This largely restricts Li-Fi use to indoors with standard lighting.
The Future of Li-Fi
You might be wondering why is it that when you visit your grandparents’ house, there are rooms or areas in the house where you can’t connect to Wi-Fi. That’s probably because that area is a “wireless dead zone”. As mentioned earlier, Wi-Fi uses radio waves, which can be interfered with or blocked by items such as large metal objects (large metal cabinets, steel wiring in walls, etc.). In such places, Li-Fi does have an advantage and could be a viable alternative for Wi-Fi in such wireless dead zones, or an area with high radio frequency congestion.
If data is transmitted with light, Li-Fi needs LED bulbs to remain on. However, that doesn’t mean that your room or office needs to be well-lit 24/7. The LED bulb can be dimmed enough to utilize light frequencies beyond the spectrum of light visible to the human eye. So, you can get a good night’s sleep without having to keep the light “on” to stay connected.
Despite its exponentially greater speed, Techcrunch, the online publisher of technology news, points out that Li-Fi will probably not replace Wi-Fi on a wide scale in the near future. It might start making an impact in niche areas, such as labs and research libraries at universities and at large corporations, but its inability to function outdoors, as well as the need for a direct line-of-sight means that most consumers and manufacturers will probably stick to Wi-Fi for now.
Further down the line, devices, homes and public buildings might be built and equipped with Li-Fi in mind, making the possibility of shifting from Wi-Fi to Li-Fi more manageable for end users. Till then though, perhaps your best bet is to upgrade your Wi-Fi routers and make sure you place them in the ideal spot for best coverage in your home or place of business.