Wireless technology that turns LED lights into internet transmitters is joining the battle for bandwidth as traditional WiFi networks struggle to cope with demand. Matthew Stock reports.
It's a familiar sight - dozens of users on a WiFi network, slowing down Internet speeds. But in the battle for bandwidth, there's a new shining light... LiFi, meaning Light Frequency, turns the light bulb above your head into an internet transmitter. Whereas WiFi uses radio frequency (RF) signals to transmit data, LiFi uses the visible light of the electromagnetic spectrum. PureLifi - a spin-off from the University of Edinburgh - are one of the pioneers of LiFi technology. SOUNDBITE (English) NIKOLA SERAFIMOVSKI, VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS STRATEGY AT PURELIFI, SAYING: "The way we achieve wireless communication using light is by changing the intensity of the LED light. Effectively we are modulating, or turning the light on and off, millions of times per second." This light modulation is imperceptible to the human eye. A ceiling-mounted signal processor streams data embedded in the beam of an LED light. A dongle attached to your laptop or tablet decodes it. SOUNDBITE (English) NIKOLA SERAFIMOVSKI, VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS STRATEGY AT PURELIFI, SAYING: "The blue eye is effectively the visible light receiver which picks up the rapid changes in the LED light that's in the ceiling. Immediately next to it is an infrared LED which provides transmission for the uplink." Critics say LiFi is limited by the need for direct line-of-sight transmission. pureLiFi says it will complement existing WiFi networks to boost bandwidth. SOUNDBITE (English) NIKOLA SERAFIMOVSKI, VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS STRATEGY AT PURELIFI, SAYING: "You would move from 3G or 4G or 5G onto WiFi, onto LiFi, and use all of them at the same time or the best one that is available for what you want to do at that particular time." One of a number of companies developing the tech, pureLiFi says it has a bandwidth capacity 10,000 times that of WiFi. And it's extremely fast. Eventually, they say any LED light could be turned into an ultra-fast wireless router. They're now working with companies including BT and Cisco to refine the technology and deploy it in the real-world.