Apple may support Li-Fi — so what’s Li-Fi?

Last month it was reported/rumored that Apple is considering supporting Li-Fi, a super-fast wireless transmission. AppleInsider says that “beginning with iOS 9.1, the operating system's library cache file makes mention of ‘LiFiCapability’ alongside other hardware and software capability declarations.”

Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) is a bidirectional, high speed, networked wireless communication technology similar to Wi-Fi. It transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC). Li-Fi was invented by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2011 when he demonstrated that, by flickering the light from a single LED, he could transmit more data than a cellular tower. He noted a lab-based record of 224 gigabits per second (that’s 18 movies of 1.5 GB each being downloaded every second). 

Photo courtesy of science

Photo courtesy of science

Now there are reports of real-world experiments achieving 1GB per second — or 100 times faster than current Wi-Fi speeds. In addition to more speed, Li-Fi allows for greater security on local networks since light can’t pass through walls. This also means there’s less interference between devices. 

However, it also means that your Li-Fi network won’t work through walls as your Wi-Fi network does. Also, the new tech Li-Fi can’t be used in direct sunlight or other odd conditions with “harsh” lighting (through the use of filters the technology can be used indoors even when sunlight is present). 

This means that Wi-Fi and Li-Fi will almost certainly coexist. The most likely scenario: using a Wi-Fi network for general use and a couple of Li-Fi hotspots for high-speed uses.

There are challenges, of course. Homes and businesses would have to implement a Li-Fi infrastructure. Haas has previously claimed that in the future every LED lightbulb could be used as an ultra-fast alternative to Wi-Fi. In a TED talk describing the technology, Haas said that current infrastructure was suitable for the integration of Li-Fi.

“All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device and this would then combine two basic functionalities: illumination and wireless data transmission," he said. "In the future we will not only have 14 billion light bulbs, we may have 14 billion Li-Fis deployed worldwide for a cleaner, greener and even brighter future.”

However, you’ll need new bulbs, as Li-Fi won’t work with existing LED bulbs. The technology will also require your Macs, iPhones, and iPads to include a a photosensor that can “read” incoming light.

While Li-Fi isn’t likely to completely replace Wi-Fi the technologies could be used in parallel to create more efficient networks. It’s certainly a technology worth watching. As data volumes grow, the pressure on network infrastructure increases to develop ways of coping with demands. The IDC research group predicts that data will grow to 44 zettabytes by 2020, increasing from 4.4 zettabytes in 2014.