Light-based LiFi is incredibly fast, remarkably fragile, and now standardized by Ars Technica

People have gathered around a bright spot that emits signals on the ceiling of an office
Zoom in / “I can’t believe the quality of this 8K video tutorial! It’s like you’re really Ted, could you, yeah, move around there a bit? You’re blocking thanks.”


Light is almost certainly the fastest thing out there. So it makes sense that “light-based wireless communications” or LiFi could blow the theoretical doors of existing radio wave wireless standards, up to a maximum of 224GB per second. [Edit, 2:40 p.m.: It does not make sense, and those doors would remain on each rhetorical vehicle. As pointed out by commenters, radio waves, in a vacuum, would reasonably be expected to travel at the same speed as light. Ars, but moreso the author personally, regrets the error. Original post continues.]

As long as there’s nothing blocking the space between your receiver and the bulb you’ve turned into a LiFi access point. Or you don’t need to turn off the light bulb completely to sleep. And you’re willing to add a dongle and keep it pointed the right way, at least for now.

But LiFi, or 802.11bb, isn’t really meant to replace Wi-Fi, but complement it—a good thing for a technology theoretically undone by a sheet of printer paper. In an announcement of the standard’s certification by IEEE (spotted on PC Gamer) and on the LiFiCO FAQ page, the LED-based wireless standard is being proposed as an alternative for some use cases. LiFi could be useful when radio frequencies are inhibited or forbidden, when connection security is paramount, or simply whenever lightning speed transfer is desired at the expense of line-of-sight alignment.

Frauenhofer HHI, one of the developers of the standard, suggests “classrooms, medical and industrial scenarios”. Operating in the optical spectrum, rather than the limited amount of authorized radio wavelengths, “ensures higher reliability and lower latency and jitter,” says Dominic Schulz, lead LiFi developer at Frauenhofer. It also reduces jams and eavesdropping and allows for “indoor navigation with centimeter precision”.

PureLiFi is ready to help companies integrate LiFi receivers into their devices now that there is a true interoperability standard.
Zoom in / PureLiFi is ready to help companies integrate LiFi receivers into their devices now that there is a true interoperability standard.


Now that it exists as a published standard, how does LiFi exist as an actual product that you can use? In a very limited way. If you like cutting-edge networking technology, you can get into LiFi for $2,200 with LiFiMax Flex, a kit that is “the most affordable LiFi product on the market today,” according to LiFiCo. For that price, you get a ceiling-mounted access point and antenna, a dongle, and an RJ45 cable to plug into your connection. If you had an extra $200 to spend, you could add a LiFiMax Tab, a tablet in a ruggedized case that doesn’t require a dongle to access LiFi (although, kindly, it also has traditional Wi-Fi connectivity).

Curiously, these packages only promise 150Mbps down and 140Mbps up. PureLiFi, which designs products for original equipment manufacturers, promises its Light Antenna One is “gigabit capable,” while a product description describes it as “1 Gbps+.” The product page suggests that LiFi is the “path to breakneck speeds,” but where we’re at right now is no wider than the wider spots of traditional Wi-Fi.

There’s potential here, despite the initial awkwardness of Wi-Fi via flashlight. While it is not possible to turn off a LiFi spot completely, the signal has integrity at 10% room illumination (60 lux), and the LiFiCo FAQ suggests future use of the invisible parts of the light spectrum. LiFialso, crucially, functions as an actual light source. The current fluctuations within the light, which transmit the binary data, are happening at such high speeds that the human eye cannot perceive them. LiFi shouldn’t, in other words, remind you sometimes why “dimmable” bulbs are important.

And a very high speed connection, needed for visuals, might make sense for emerging applications like AR/VR/XR, peer-to-peer transfer in a secure environment, or just offloading a bandwidth consuming process off a charged Wi – Fi network.

While new Wi-Fi standards and copper lines can seemingly handle most of our bandwidth needs, demand tends to grow in volume up to the size of its enclosure. LiFi could be the next container. Until your cat walks on it.

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