Light Support

Can Li-Fi Solve the Spectrum Crunch?


The term “complementary access” was used in many wireless industry discussions in the early years of this century, a slight euphemism to describe Wi-Fi’s coming role as 3G bandwidth filler, patching gaps in cellular reception and taking burden off the network. Some observed that the roles were likely to be reversed as phones became Wi-Fi enabled and users became comfortable with third-party and ubiquitous wireless hot spots.

It’s fascinating to now hear Li-Fi being described as a potential complement for 5G networks: a gap filler and network reliever to save spectrum and energy. After all, what is more ubiquitous than a light bulb? There are about 20 billion light sockets in use around the world.

An interesting report today describes software engineers in Mexico transmitting data at 10 gigabytes per second using LED bulbs. This isn’t the first such demo, but is a solid indication that the technology is moving forward and getting noticed.

The concept of using inexpensive LED bulbs and a device’s camera to detect extremely slight light variations has many advantages according to Li-Fi backers. It would save radio spectrum, which is growing tighter, and save energy by easing the load on base stations. Li-Fi is a line-of-sight technology, but the intention is for it to provide secure exchanges within closed quarters. There’s also no radio interference, so visible light communications could be used in hospitals and on aeroplanes. In theory, wherever there’s light, data can be transmitted — from street lamps to cars or from house to house.

It’s early days, but Li-Fi should be on the radar of telecommunication equipment providers, handset makers, operators, broadcasters, and even light bulb manufacturers and their chipset suppliers. Data networks could look very different a few years down the road.