THE BIG IDEA: Riding the Light as LiFi Promises Speed 100 Times Faster than WiFi

LightFaster, faster, faster. It seems to be the purveying problem with the Internet. No matter how many times we step forward in the development of bandwidth and connectivity, consumers are still not satisfied with the speed at which their Internet works. Things are just not fast enough. I still remember the joy and wonder of when I first used at home a blazing-fast 56K modem. I was online so quickly that I nearly got whiplash. The sound of your phone connecting, the sound of the modem connecting, and that silence between making a connection and actually getting online.

The best of times, the worst of times.

Digital natives will never know a world that wasn’t connected in some way, shape, or form; but whether analog or digital, both kinds of Internet users demand faster connections; and Professor Harald Haas of Edinburgh University may have just unveiled at a TED talk in 2011 the next big progression in connectivity: LiFi.

LiFi, and in this abbreviation the “li” stands for light, promises to be a hundred times faster than wifi, delivering data using the visible spectrum instead of radio waves. LiFi particularly becomes useful if you are in an apartment located in a busy city or suburb. With the congestion of a busy, full skyline, wifi networks interfere or steal bandwidth from each other; but when operating with a lifi network—utilizing light as opposed to radio—no one can interfere as the light is isolated in your home or apartment. Connectivity is achieved by using LEDs light bulbs as LEDs can modulate very fast. If you want to see this in action, and you just so happen to have a Phillips HUE lighting system, take a look at SyFy Sync and watch what it does with your lights during select shows.

With lifi, LED lightbulbs serve as the transmitters. All you need to make this work are photo detector that pick up the signal, and Professor Haas demonstrated all this in his TED talk by having an LED lamp stream video during his talk.

Yes, you read that right. The lamp was streaming video.

Imagine a future where there would be billions of lightbulbs around the world serving as wireless hotspots.

What Professor Haas accomplished at TED is far from a Mythbusters-style science trick. A startup in Estonia called Velmenni is currently using lifi-enabled light bulbs to transmit data at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. Laboratory studies show theoretical speeds of possibly 224 gigabits per second, but that’s only theoretical…

…and very tantalizing.

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