What Is Li-Fi?

Clay Kobernick, director of strategic supplier relations at Anixter, explains what Li-Fi is and why its proponents believe that it is a ground-breaking wireless technology. Li-Fi technology also has some drawbacks that may keep it from widespread commercialization.

For more information on Li-Fi, read our TECHbrief comparing wireless communication protocols.

Transcript: What Is Li-Fi?

Hi, I’m Clay Kobernick.

There are many wireless protocols on the market, each with unique specifications that make them suited for different applications. Li-Fi is one protocol that you may have heard about in the media. It’s been described by its inventor, Harald Haas, as a paradigm-shifting fifth-generation technology.

Li-Fi is a form of visual light communication that uses light waves from LED bulbs for high-speed wireless communication. Proponents of Li-Fi are excited about it for a number of reasons:

  • Its bandwidth, which includes the infrared and visible light spectrum, is about 2600 times larger than the radio frequency spectrum that Wi-Fi utilizes. 
  • It has about 100 times the data density of Wi-Fi. 
  • Its transmission speeds range from 1 Gbps for a commercial LED with a blue filter, to 5 Gbps for RGB LEDs. Significantly higher speeds have been achieved with micro LEDs and laser-based lighting. 
  • It also has fewer interference issues than RF technology. This makes it ideal for dense environments where Wi-Fi may fall short—for example, in airplanes, automobiles, underwater applications, hospitals and buildings where machinery or other RF devices may interfere with coverage. 
  • Li-Fi is also a more secure form of data transfer than Wi-Fi, because hackers cannot access it unless they are within the illumination area of the transmitter-bulb.

This last point highlights one of the main disadvantages of Li-Fi, which is its short range compared to Wi-Fi. Although the transmitter light doesn’t need to be visible to the eye, or in a direct line-of-sight for it to work, Li-Fi can’t penetrate solid materials, so walls will block it in.

Ideally, a Li-Fi network in a building would consist of multiple transmitter bulbs, so a mobile user could experience seamless wireless coverage as they move between the illumination area of each LED bulb.

Li-Fi could be thought of as complement to RF technology. As part of a hybrid network, Li-Fi could improve load balancing, enhancing the user experience as wireless traffic and density grow.

Right now Li-Fi is a long way from widespread commercialization, but it has potential applications for the Internet of Things in many industries, including aerospace, education, consumer electronics, healthcare, retail, security and transportation among others.

To learn more about this and other wireless protocols, read our TECHbrief on this topic, and talk to your local Anixter representative.