Our homes, workplaces—anywhere there’s people, there’s Wi-Fi, and it’s been around for a while now. We’ve become accustomed to Wi-Fi like we’ve come to expect electricity and running water being available. How often does someone ask for the Wi-Fi password before wondering where the bathroom is or needing a drink? What separates Wi-Fi from electricity and running water, however, is its constant state of evolution. In its current, quickest form, Wi-Fi is almost 400 times faster than it was 15 years ago. The consumer tech industry seems to move forward at an exponential rate, and there’s a team in the University of Edinburgh that believes that Wi-Fi has overstayed its welcome.
Technology and science blogs have been lighting up from the introduction of Li-Fi, a light-based wireless communication technology. In tests conducted earlier this year, Li-Fi was able to achieve speeds of 224 gigabits per second. To put into perspective, that’s 100 times faster than 802.11ac with MU-MIMO, the bleeding edge of WiFi technology, which only has a theoretical maximum of 2.3 (x2) gigabits per second. With Li-Fi, you’re able to transfer a 4K Blu-Ray movie in under two minutes. That’s 100GB! Even if you were hard wired it would still take you 20 minutes to complete. Li-Fi is so fast that your computer’s hard drive would bottleneck the transfer!
Instead of radio waves, Li-Fi broadcasts data over the infrared light spectrum. It also requires new hardware—specialized LED bulbs with signal processing tech and a photo sensor receiver for your mobile devices. Retrofitting a room with Li-Fi would involve an infrastructure overhaul. Imagine having an IT crew for your lighting! The actual networking would still be done by a router. Li-Fi bulbs and sensors would be analogous to Wi-Fi antennas or ethernet cable.
Is Li-Fi the future of wireless communications? It might be the step in the right direction. The biggest concern is that Li-Fi relies on line of sight. What happens when you leave the Li-Fi enabled room? If I put my Li-Fi connected phone in my pocket? Perhaps we should look at Li-Fi as a complimentary technology to Wi-Fi and not an outright replacement. We are able to go from LTE to Wi-Fi seamlessly. Theoretically, we should be able to transition to Li-Fi seamlessly as well.
Is it even necessary to upgrade to faster wireless connectivity? Yes, absolutely!
File sizes are growing and the usage of several terabytes of storage is becoming the norm. The fact of the matter is that Wi-Fi is going to hit the end of its roadmap sooner than later. The radio wave spectrum is saturated, and there’s only so much bandwidth that can be extracted from what’s left. Think of the spectrum like a highway, with dedicated lanes for Wi-Fi. Over time, you figure out how to use that space more efficiently so you can fit more traffic and make it flow faster. Eventually you’ll hit 100% efficiency. Li-Fi, on the other hand, isn’t just a new highway, it’s practically a new planet for building on.