LiFi Technology: Towards an illuminating future in wireless communication
Imagine, you wake up and tap your smartphone to switch on your water heater. As you get up from your bed, your home sensor sends you a text that you are out of water; with this message, there is an option to turn on the water tank, which notifies you through your smartwatch when the tank is filled. At the forefront of this connectivity miracle, known as the Internet-of-Things, is a fascinating optical wireless communication technology - Li-Fi Technology.
Light Fidelity, or Li-Fi, is a ground-breaking innovation that can transmit enormous amounts of data through LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). An application of Visual Light Communications, Li-Fi, was declared the faster, more secure and energy-efficient successor of today's Wi-Fi, transmitting data at speeds 100 times faster than the latter technology. The idea is similar to infrared remote controls but far more potent in its surprisingly beneficial applications.
With this evolution, data takes a ride along the spectrum of visible light. LEDs can transmit information when they are switched on and off so rapidly that the human eye cannot follow it. This data is received by a piece of reception equipment, making it possible to facilitate wireless Internet connectivity at an experimental speed up to 10 Gbps, which is about 250 times faster than 'superfast' broadband.
How Li-Fi Works?
A subset of optical communication technologies, a VLC (Visible Light Communication), merely transfers data using light bulbs as transmitters that emit visible wavelengths. Li-Fi technology uses transceiver-fitted LED bulbs that can light a room as well as transmit and receive information. LED bulbs are semiconductor devices that modulate the brightness of the emitted light wave at very high rates. When the LED is switched ON, it means a transfer of digital 1; and a switched OFF LED means a transfer of digital 0—making it possible to transfer information at very high rates by high-speed modulation of the light-emitting LED. Further, the more LEDs in the transmitter, the more information it can communicate. At the receiving end, a light-sensitive photodetector detects the information-bearing light signals and converts them back to the original digital form.
Basic Working of Li-Fi
The expanding frequency occupancy explains the dependency of IoT on Li-Fi due to the shoot-up in the number of IoT devices congesting the RF spectrum. It has created a substantial need for spectrum relief, which can be provided by VLC, extending the broad light spectrum to avert any future spectrum deficits. Further, the ever-increasing concerns about information security can be considerably dealt with by using Li-Fi, as light waves cannot leak out of a high-density, closed networking environment. They also make it possible to use in environments such as an aircraft, where the data signals must not interfere with the air-traffic signals. Additionally, the possible integration of Li-Fi devices in interference and security susceptible environments like data centers, hospitals, military, and testing labs, is why it is considered to have the leading edge over wireless radio communications.
Better Information Security in Li-Fi
However, the technology comes with its share of drawbacks. Light waves cannot pass through walls or other opaque surfaces, limiting the range of communication. Although light waves can reflect from surfaces to arrive at the receiver, the reflection degrades the intensity of light and therefore, the data transfer speed.
Li-Fi Setup in a house
It is improbable to see Li-Fi-enabled personal devices and hardware coming out in the next couple of years, as most devices are still incompatible with visible light communication technologies. This concern extends to the compatibility with internet service providers. In regions with slower data transfer rates, deploying Li-Fi would be pointless as the technology's best aspect is not utilized.
Challenges aside, this technology has immense potential for solving many current difficulties. Li-Fi can be deployed in places like nuclear, petroleum, or chemical plants where it is difficult to lay optical fiber cables or coaxial cables. Interactive environments like classrooms and lecture halls could be equipped with LEDs that provide instant information transfer from peer to peer. Underwater expeditions can use light waves to share information between underwater machines such as rovers.
IP Analysis and Key Players
Although Li-Fi's public disclosure happened in 2011 by Professor Harald Haas of the University of Edinburg, the research began in 2006. Oledcomm, the later established Li-Fi products company, started the research in early 2006. The patent filings before 2011 show that the visible light communication domain's development remained constant for its first five years. However, after the public announcement of the technology in 2011, the research and development plummeted, indicated by the massive increase in patent filings.
As seen in the graph below, in the last ten years, the filings shot up until it reached the highest number of applications being filed in 2018, with 242 applications. It is clear from the chart that most numbers of applications on Li-Fi were filed from 2016 to 2019. It indicates the rise of major players in the market such as pureLiFi Ltd, Signify, VLNComm as well as the entry of major players like Panasonic, Samsung, Philips, General Electric, and Wipro.
Yearly Trend of Patent Applications in Li-Fi Technology
(Source – Lumenci)
Current Major Players
Panasonic IP Corp is another tech giant that has stepped into providing VLC. Currently, it owns numerous patents in the domain. In addition to manufacturing Li-Fi lamps and transmitters, their most advanced solutions include their trademarked LinkRay Technology that can capture data from LED transmitters using mobile cameras and display mobile phones' information.
PureLiFi was established in 2012 and is considered the pioneer of the technology. It was co-founded by Harold Haas and is based at the University of Edinburgh. PureLiFi has been researching in the domain since 2008. Two of their most popular products are the Li-Fi X/XC dongle, which provides data access to personal devices by plugging in the USB port. The dongle is comprised of an Infrared transmitter and a photodetector receiver. They also provide a Li-Fi ceiling unit that connects to a LED light that can communicate with the dongle with up to 43Mbps. They have filed over 50 applications in various jurisdictions, particularly in EP.
Oledcomm entered the market in 2011 and soon became one of the market's critical players with over 19 applications. They aim to change the Li-Fi communication industry in the coming years. Currently, their products include Li-FiMax dongles, Li-FiMax network interface modems, and bridges, as well as a Li-Fi Cloud SDK, accessible both online and offline.
Signify is parented by Philips and based in the Netherlands. They have been one of the leaders in the lighting industry for 125 years. Now, they have set out to revolutionize visible light communications. They currently provide Li-Fi solutions with their TruLiFi products, including lighting systems, modems, and USB access keys for connecting to personal devices.
Other key players in the market include Samsung Electronics, OPPO, and others like Wipro Ltd, VLNComm, and Lumeova Inc.
Top 10 Patent Assignees in Li-Fi Technology
(Source – Lumenci)
In the last ten years, most applications were filed in China (286) and the US (265). Other prominent jurisdictions include Europe (77), Korea (75), and France (36). Many applications are filed in India, Japan, Taiwan, and German jurisdictions too.
Geographical Distribution of Patent Applications
(Source - Lumenci)
Li-Fi technology could be a great solution for innovators and inventors looking for alternatives in areas that are normally sensitive to deploying existing technologies like RF communication. However, the total replacement of existing Wi-Fi technology is nearly impossible. There has been a growing need for a better alternative due to factors affecting radio communication's efficiency and performance, such as congestion, bandwidth saturation, interference, and security concerns. The ongoing research and developments in the domain are worth observing, as the pace of developments has been fast and promising, indicated by the massive investments and soaring number of new names and products every other year.
Associate at Lumenci Russel is an Associate at Lumenci with experience in Networking and Automation. He holds a B.Tech degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from NIT Jaipur. Recently, he has gained an interest in Cloud-based Networking and likes to indulge in yoga, go hiking, and exploring different genres in music.