In the future you’ll be able to connect to the Internet with LED light bulbs instead of 4G or WiFi, thanks to LiFi-based USB sticks.
Using LiFi – light-based WiFi – Edinburgh-based start-up PureLiFi aims to make it even easier to access the Internet.
Instead of having to hunt for and sign in to congested and possibly compromised WiFi hotspots, or wait for networks to roll-out LTE-A, LiFi means that any LED bulb that’s been converted to transmit and receive data can connect your device to the Internet.
From bedside table lamps to lamp posts, if it emits light it could be turned into an Internet access point with LiFi.The idea is that one day every electrical light source could be turned into an Internet access point. Chief scientific officer and PureLiFi co-founder Professor Harald Haas coined the term ‘LiFi’ and famously demonstrated the concept at a 2011 TED Talk.
PureLiFi’s Director of Product Marketing, Nikola Serafimovski, added: “Every light that’s connected to the network will be a base station.
“When you move between cell towers with your phone, your data connection is maintained, and this is the same with LiFi light sources.”
From bedside table lamps to streetside lamp posts, if it’s man-made and it emits light it could be turned into a future access point. We’re not there yet, but PureLiFi is taking those first baby steps into making LiFi a reality.
PureLiFi has already made its first product, the Li-1st and it’s taking orders from customers now. This system, which we saw at the DTG Summit back in May, is designed to be used in industrial and commercial environments like hospitals, airports, underwater and so on. While it’s a fully working product, it’s also bulky; it’s way too big to be conveniently connected to a laptop.
Enter the Li-Flame. This two-part system consists of a desktop unit that plugs into your laptop via USB and a ceiling-mounted unit that connects an LED light fitting to a gateway device.
The ceiling unit transmits data over visible light, while the desktop unit sends signals back using invisible, infra-red light.
PureLiFi says that the Li-Flame establishes a near-constant connection that’s ‘handover capable’ – in other words, should you move your laptop to another area of the room where there’s another Li-Flame light fitting, your laptop will automatically switch to that access point without the connection being interrupted.
It works the other way round too; if your colleague plugs a Li-Flame desktop unit into their laptop they’ll be able to easily share the same connection as you. PureLiFi promises robust download and upload speeds of up to 10Mbps with the Li-Flame from each access point.
This all sounds great, so when can we get one? Serafimovski told us previously that we can expect to see the first LiFi fittings installed within the next two years. As for when we can expect to get LiFi in our pockets, that could take a little longer.
“We have this really cool and unique product,” says Serafimovski. “Sometime in 2015, we hope to get out another module that will develop the platform internally and after that perhaps we can start to think about consumer markets. We’ll be looking to get out a dongle on the mass market as soon as possible, we just can’t say when that will be yet.”
It sounds similar to the Commulight concept demoed by Outstanding Technology in 2012. This LiFi system used dongles that connected to the USB and 3.5mm ports of tablets and phones.
Despite these dongle-sized devices, the Japanese firm doesn’t appear to have any designs on hitting the consumer market just yet.
PureLiFi is close to securing over £6 million of investment from potential backers. With the cash injection one of the things it plans to work on is a smaller, performance-enhanced version of the Li-Flame, one that’s closer to your typical USB stick in size.
The current Li-Flame unit is perhaps a little too big for you to sling around in your bag. The press renders of the desktop unit give you an idea of how its 25cm x 8cm x 2cm battery-powered frame sits astride a MacBook Pro. It’s not quite as convenient as popping a little thumb-sized device into a USB port.
Serafimovski said that future Li-Flames would also draw power from a laptop, like conventional mobile broadband dongles do.
While LiFi has a number of advantages over WiFi – it can already deliver download speeds over 1Gbps – but a big drawback is that direct line of sight is needed. LiFi-equipped phones of the future won’t receive a signal when they’re nestled in your pocket.
But the handover capable aspect of Li-Flame means that if you’re moving between rooms with a LiFi-capable phone or laptop, you should maintain a constant connection, provided that all the bulbs in your house or office are LiFi-enabled.
Even so, PureLiFi doesn’t expect that LiFi will totally replace WiFi or even cellular connections. The indirect nature of these services mean that they’re better suited to providing connectivity in some situations.
LiFi is envisioned to work in tandem with WiFi, in a similar way to how mobile features like the Samsung Galaxy S5’s Download Booster combines WiFi and 4G for even faster download speeds.
While companies are experimenting with tri-band wireless routers now, future phones, tablets and dongles could be quad-band machines with 2.4GHz-60GHz WiFi radios and a LiFi unit, all working together.