Is The World Ready For Li-Fi?

From what used to be analog systems, many proAV developments have steered towards the digital realm in recent years. With WiFi-based features leading the way, many are advocating that such solutions are easier to comprehend and operate. The benefits of “wireless” has brought upon so many new and improved products that we often look forward excitedly to major tech shows.

Enter Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) – a Visible Light Communication (VLC) system that transmits data using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a medium. Similar to Wi-Fi, Li-Fi also delivers data electromagnetically, however, while Wi-Fi uses radio waves, Li-Fi uses visible light.

Measured to be about 100 times faster than Wi-Fi, reaching speeds of 224 gigabits per second, Li-Fi depends on a photo- detector to receive light signals and a signal processing element to convert data.

An interesting commercial application would be location-based services for retail. Proposed by Philips in 2014, the company introduced a VLC system that can connect in-store LED lights with consumers’ smart phones. Using a downloadable app, users will be able to locate items on their shopping list or get coupons as they pass products on the aisles. Retailers can also send targeted information to consumers based on their precise location within stores.

The possibilities are aplenty, with intelligent traffic management system, indoor communication, in-flight entertainment and underwater communication leading as key potential applications. For the proAV industry, Digital Signage could also be an area to explore.

But of course, there is always a downside to everything. For Li-Fi, the range is shorter as light waves cannot penetrate walls. Being a new technology, low reliability, high installation costs and privacy concerns are also potential deterring factors.

Then again, with VLC/Li-Fi market projected to reach more than $6 million by 2018*, perhaps we should let time decide if light will be next big thing.

*Source: “Global Visible Light Communication(VLC)/Li-Fi Technology & Free Space Optics (FSO) Market (2013-2018) – By Component, Application (Intelligent Traffic Management Systems, Indoor Networking, In-flight Entertainment, Underwater Communication, Location Based Service) & Geography” by MarketsandMarkets.

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*This commentary was first published in the Feb-Mar 2016 issue of Systems Integration Asia.

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