Researchers have found that the next high-speed data networking connections could be powered by a simple light bulb. Whilst older filament bulbs aren't quite up to the task, due to the speed at which light has to flicker, the new LED-based lights are.
The technology works by creating a flicker that is indiscernible to the human eye but can be picked up by a photodetector, which can pick up the stream of binary which is created by a blinking bulb. The ones and zeros are then compressed in order to up the throughput of the data even more.
Due to the fact that every household and business use light bulbs, it's possible that Li-Fi, as it's dubbed, will become the communications technology of the future. Companies intending to supply the new technology are already popping up and it's these that have adopted the name Li-Fi, so as to make it sound attractive to potential buyers, who will automatically connect the term to the word Wi-Fi.
However, the technique is known as Visible Light Communications (VLC) in the research community and the concept has been around since about 2003. Advocates of the technology say that VLC could do away with the need for radio masts and that it is faster, cheaper and safer than other types of communications technology.
Harald Haas, of Edinburgh University, heads up the research project, which is known as D-LIGHT and several of the university faculties are involved; the intellectual property aspect to the project is owned by the university, which has sponsored the work.
Hass presented the research to a stunned audience at the TEDGlobal conference at the end of last year, when he also gave a live demonstration of VLC to great applause. The German-born academic started out his career developing mobile-phone chips for Siemens in Munich, before going on to enter academia.
Haas has already founded a company, VLC Ltd, to market the technology and the company has already received "seed-funding”, with more expected to be injected later on this year. However, rival companies are already beginning to emerge and VLC products are now trialling in some parts of the world. In the US, tech company LVX began providing light-powered connections to six Minnesotan public buildings, which is rumoured to have transmitted data at just 3Mbps.
Last year, Global Business Intelligence (GBI) produced a report entitled "Visible Light Communication (VLC) -- A Potential Solution to the Global Wireless Spectrum Shortage”, which cited a number of companies who are already involved in the field, including Casio and Intel.
Whilst the technology is cited as having numerous benefits for industries such as air travel and underwater works, VLC doesn't have the range and penetration capabilities of radio waves as yet. However, as theorised by GBI, it could take pressure off the already struggling radio wave spectrums at least in the short term before the technology is developed further.