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That theory about LED lightbulbs transmitting data? It's true. Li-Fi is here.

Erika Morphy | Sept. 15, 2015
Yes, multiple tests have shown that LED lighting fixtures can transmit wireless data at very competitive high speeds. A commercial product started shipping several months ago.

"The prototype light fixtures we've developed are primarily made with readily available off-the-shelf hardware," he said. "We've been able to build simple prototype receiver hardware from $5 worth of parts."

It can connect to the Internet through any usual manner, such as a receiver/transmitter device connected to a laptop computer or cellular telephone using a USB (universal serial bus) port, he said.

Li-Flame ships

That is pretty much how Haas described it as well in his speech. Not that he has much right to feel aggrieved by the NASA project - there are, in fact, a number of research initiatives around the world exploring Li-Fi. The first scientist to identify the phenomenon, according to NASA, was Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, and less famously, the photophone. In a demonstration in Washington, D.C., in the 1880s, Bell transmitted speech using modulated sunlight over a distance of several hundred yards.

But Haas can be credited with coining the term "Li-Fi" and advancing the vision of using VLC technology to deliver high-speed, bidirectional, networked and mobile wireless communications similar. He went on to launch a commercial venture called pureLiFi,  also in Edinburgh, which shipped its first fully wireless optical networking systems in the fourth quarter of 2014. The product, Li-Flame, turns standard LED fixtures into wireless Internet access points. Just like the theory said it would.

pureLiFi demoed it a few months later at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Competitive high-speed performance

The Berlin-based Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute is working on the technology and applications as well. This May it used VLC technology to implement an optical broadband system in a facility at Lake Constance in Germany to replace the existing radio-based Wi-Fi solution. The project is taking place over several stages, but already the institute seems confident of the system's performance.

Indeed, performance has proved to be quite competitive with other high-speed broadband sources throughout all the use cases, and the FHHI test was no different.  The institute reported that data rates of one gigabit per second and more were achieved with conventional LEDs, a rate that allows for the "flawless" transmission of video data in HD and 4K quality.

The insights from the tests so far, said Fraunhofer HHI project manager Dr. Anagnostis Paraskevopoulos "can lead to user-oriented optimization of the system parameters as well as to accelerated preliminary development efforts.

"In this way, time-to-the-market for respective innovative products in conjunction with potential industry partners, for example in the lighting industry, will be significantly reduced," he said.

Researchers at Disney appear to be less timid about extrapolating conclusions about Li-Fi and its potential uses. Last week Disney Research's wireless research group submitted a paper at a workshop at MobiCom 2015, held in Paris, France, that among other things posited how Li-Fi could help fuel IoT. 


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