Forget Wi-Fi: You may soon access the internet via ordinary light bulbs

Internet hotspot.
Internet hotspot.
Image: Getty Images/Kiyoshi Ota
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Light-speed internet may be upon us. A technology called “Li-Fi” uses light waves from ordinary LED light bulbs to deliver internet connectivity that that is cheaper, more secure and 100 times faster that broadband internet.

Velmini—a tech company in Tallinn, Estonia—is the first to test visible light communication technology in a real-world scenario, using Li-Fi-equipped LED lights. It has reported data transmission rates at 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), according to the International Business Times, but Li-Fi lab simulations recorded speeds up to 224 Gbps.

Traditional broadband sent over Wi-Fi uses radio waves are scarce and interfere with other frequencies. Last year, Bell Labs set the record for fastest broadband speed at 10 Gbps—of little consolation to people with sluggish internet access in many parts of the world.

Developed by a team led by German physicist Harald Hass, Li-Fi works with by transmitting data via subtly flickering light beams from an LED bulb to a solar panel attached to a computer that acts as a receiver. Because Li-Fi uses available light from the environment (including the flashlight in iPhones), you won’t need to turn off wireless devices—even on a flight, explained Hass in a TED talk.

But don’t ditch your routers just yet. Li-Fi will not entirely replace Wi-Fi entirely since light waves, unlike radio waves, cannot travel through walls. It also doesn’t work outdoors with direct sunlight. An ideal scenario could be setting up designated Li-Fi in areas needing robust connectivity, like industrial or office settings where lights can always be on.

Haas, who is the chair of Mobile Communications department at the University of Edinburgh and pureLiFi co-founder, estimates that the technology be ready for public use within the next two to three years.