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What is Li-Fi?

Marc Burrows / 01 December 2016 ( 13 March 2018 )

Li-Fi is a new way of wirelessly connecting computers to the internet, in which a lightbulb can become a hyper-efficient internet connection.

A lightbulb emitting a signal to answer the question: What is Li-Fi?

What is Li-Fi?

Li-Fi, short for “light-fidelity”, is a new way of wirelessly connecting computers to the internet that could one day replace Wi-Fi. 

It is substantially speedier than the networks that we’re used to, and can transmit huge amounts of data easily using light. 

You can literally turn a lightbulb into a hyper-efficient internet connection.

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How Li-Fi works

Unlike standard Wi-Fi, which transmits information through radio waves, Li-Fi uses the light spectrum (hence “light-fidelity”). 

The network signal is broadcast through an ordinary household LED bulb, using dims and flashes undetectable to the human eye. The signals are then picked up by a sensor on your computer or phone. 

In theory this could be built into every lightbulb in your house, into street lights, the lighting on buses, trains or aeroplanes, in pubs or concert venues or into portable devices like torches, making connectivity extremely easy - if you can see it, then it’s connected.

Li-Fi vs Wi-Fi

Aside from extremely high speeds of data transfer (roughly ten times faster than broadband over Wi-Fi), Li-Fi has all sorts of advantages. 

Because it uses light instead of radio waves, all of those places where using a Wi-Fi or mobile phone signal could be dangerous no longer apply, as there’s no risk of interference - that means unlimited data use in traditional no-go areas like aeroplanes and hospitals. 

As light can’t travel through walls your data is much more secure - no-one can hack into your network through the Li-Fi because if they can’t see the bulb they can’t connect to it. 

You could also connect many more devices to one network as the capacity is much greater. This makes internet-enabled household appliances (known as ‘the Internet of Things’) much more practical. It could even be used underwater, as light will pass more easily through water than radio waves.

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What are the disadvantages?

The main one is the range: light doesn’t pass through walls, so two devices can’t connect to the same light source if they are in different rooms. You’d have to have separate bulbs in each room. 

And of course the light has to be switched on for the connection to work, so you might have to leave the lights on when you go to bed if you wanted your internet-enabled-fridge to send your order to the milkman, which could well be the case in the near future.

Browsing on your phone in bed becomes much more problematic too.

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This sounds brilliant - where can I sign up?

Actually at present you can’t - mainstream adaptation of Li-Fi technology is still a little way off. 

In October 2017 Li-Fi pioneers PureLiFi launched the LiFI-XC, the most commercially ready LiFi system on the market, but they don’t currently offer a home solution.

Harald Haas, the founder of pureLiFi, commented "[LiFi] will truly enable the fourth industrial revolution by providing the nervous system of wireless communications connecting everything. LiFi is ready for real integration."

But it’s not worth throwing your old router out just yet - even when Li-Fi devices are more common, it’s expected they’ll work alongside traditional Wi-Fi for some years, if they ever replace it at all.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.