News & Insight

Meet Li-Fi, the replacement for Wi-Fi that's 100x faster

Oliver Jones

New tech could see our internet speeds get astronomically quicker

There’s been a lot of hype in recent years about “LiFi”, a technological successor to WiFi that uses light instead of radio waves.

The new tech could see our internet speeds get astronomically quicker in the not-so-distant future.

100 times faster than WiFi

Unlike WiFi, which uses radio waves, LiFi uses light from LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to transfer data.

The two operate very similarly – except that LiFi is expected to be about 100x faster. And the scientists at the forefront of LiFi development are predicting that they could have it up and running in just six years’ time.

The future’s light

If that seems crazy to you, consider that radio waves and light waves are waves on the same electromagnetic spectrum - it’s just that radio waves are at a much lower frequency. If you dial up that frequency, you’ll get infrared light, then visible light, then ultraviolet light, then X-rays and finally gamma rays.

So if you can code data in radio waves, you should be able to code it into visible light also – provided you can control that light’s amplitude accurately enough to encode a binary signal.

Cutting-edge research

That’s why researchers at the Changchun Institute of Optics have started using light from “full-colour emissive carbon dots”, which are tiny carbon particles less than 10 nanometres across (a nanometre is a thousand millionth of a metre).

These particles produce light of adjustable intensity, which can then be used to transmit data. Tests in 2015 showed that Li-Fi can reach speeds of 50 gigabytes per second.

LiFi tech is currently in development all around the world, and since the basic infrastructure for using LiFi already exists (we do, after all, make extensive use of electric light already), the switch-over could come faster than any of us realise.

Intrigued? There’s a cool TED talk from back in 2011 which explores some of the implications of using light to transmit data.