Most of us have a basic conception of what Wi-Fi is. Essentially, it’s the thing that connects our computers to the router before the router sends data out to the world wide web. It’s a series of invisible waves that permeate our businesses, enabling us to connect to the internet anywhere in range.
The problem with Wi-Fi is that the signal that it uses has a limited capacity to transfer information. Granted, that limited capacity is pretty high – higher than most people’s internet connections – but one day soon it will reach its physical limit, and you won’t be able to download your favourite 8K movie any faster.
The search for a solution is on. What is the fastest way to connect to the internet while at the same time preserving data integrity? Enter Li-Fi.
Li-Fi or light fidelity is an experimental technology which relies on the unique properties of conventional light waves to transmit signals. The term has been around for a while, but it’s only with the improvements in LED lightbulbs that the concept has become feasible.
Essentially, the way that Li-Fi would work would be something like this. Instead of having a router that connected to the phone socket – or however you hook your business up to the internet – you’d use a lightbulb. The lightbulb would then emit a signal to your digital device that would be picked up by a sensor, doing something similar to what existing Wi-Fi does already.
The idea sounds great in practice, but there’s just one problem with light: it doesn’t go through walls. Designers of Li-Fi say that this isn’t a problem, so long as you’re in range of a lightbulb with Li-Fi capabilities. The majority of people have a lightbulb in every room in their business, so Li-Fi is undoubtedly something that could be done.
Of course, Li-Fi won’t work with existing bulbs. If you want Li-Fi all over your company premises, you’ll have to strip them all out and start again. Likewise, Li-Fi won’t work outside, so if you have a penchant for working on your laptop while sipping a martini on your recliner, you’re going to be disappointed.
And this is probably why we won’t see Li-Fi going mainstream any time soon. While it ups the theoretical max data speeds, implementing it involves ripping out all of the existing lighting in an office and putting in new bulbs, presumably connected to a controller somewhere. It’s an expense that few people are going to want to make right now, especially when you consider that Wi-Fi is not the bottleneck for most enterprise internet. Still, only a minority have moved over to fibre-optic broadband.
So what’s the theoretical speed that Li-Fi could achieve. In 2019, most people have Wi-Fi that can deliver around 54 Mbps or megabits per second. That’s fast enough to download an HD movie in approximately 20 minutes. But Li-Fi could get up to 224 Gbps, or gigabits per second. When you consider than 1024 Mbps is equal to 1 Gbps, you soon realise just how fast Li-Fi could be.
Unfortunately, Li-Fi is not yet widely available, though we hope it will show up soon.