A new wireless networking technology is here and it is grabbing the attention of engineers and network specialists alike.
This new technology is called Li-Fi, and while the concept has been around for a while, the IEEE recently standardized Li-Fi with the new 802.11bb designation. A revolution of wireless technology is upon us.
What Is Li-Fi?
The new standardization of Li-Fi is a big deal in the tech world, but the technology has been around for more than a decade in various forms. So, it is and isn’t a new form of wireless communication technology.
Li-Fi was built around the idea of using visible light for communication (as opposed to radio frequencies that are used for Wi-Fi). As the technology developed, infrared and ultraviolet bands have been added to the technology to expand its capabilities.
The point is that Li-Fi uses very different frequencies and bands from Wi-Fi. These different frequencies allow for broader communication potential. Li-Fi can connect in different scenarios and cut through radio interference. It’s also capable of very high speeds. In experimental settings, Li-Fi has exceeded 224 Gbps data rates, which makes it competitive with high-end fiber optics.
Commercial Li-Fi is not yet this fast (although it can operate in the range of 10 Gbps), but this is an emerging technology with high potential and a lot of buzz.
How Does It Work?
At a technical level, Li-Fi is a physical-layer networking technique that primarily uses LED lights to create signals and light detectors to receive data. The lights are arranged in a circuit that can turn them on and off extremely fast, and the LEDs support different colors. This allows for extremely rapid simultaneous signaling, and it’s why Li-Fi is capable of such extreme data rates.
But because Li-Fi uses much higher frequencies than traditional wireless communication, network designs come with caveats. For the most part, Li-Fi requires line of sight. This means that the sender and receiver in a data transmission require an unobstructed view of each other.
This creates complications with wireless design using Li-Fi, and it’s why the technology will not immediately replace Wi-Fi. Instead, it offers alternative communication options, and the combination of Li-Fi with other systems is opening doors.
How Is It Applied?
When it comes to building a network using Li-Fi, the name of the game is integration. With the new IEEE standard, engineers can design Li-Fi devices that work seamlessly with existing technology. The goal is not to immediately replace all wireless with Li-Fi.
Instead, the plan is to use Li-Fi alongside other systems to expand total networking capabilities. By looking at common use cases, the new standard, the limitations of Li-Fi, and how it is already incorporated with Wi-Fi systems, you can get a clear idea of the present state of this technology and where it is headed.
Common Use Cases
Because Li-Fi primarily needs line of sight for communication, it’s not ideal in all situations. That said, it offers better-than-Wi-Fi communication in a number of settings.
One obvious option is with ultra-short-range applications. If you have ever used tap-to-pay at a store, this is a common example. Li-Fi can perform RFID functions at very close ranges, and it can do this faster, more reliably, and with greater security than current RFID technology.
Short-range applications also have a lot of potential. In a setting such as in-flight networking, Li-Fi can provide faster data rates to end users than traditional Wi-Fi. It can also handle a larger number of users, as the Li-Fi bands have access to many more channels in a given network.
For longer ranges, use cases get more specific, but in any setting where line of sight is reliable, Li-Fi can replace expensive cables, even supplanting fiber optic lines in many settings. In a data center, server-to-server communication can rely on Li-Fi with no expected physical interference. Building-to-building networking similarly can use unobstructed views to send signals across significant distances with little interference or signal degradation.
At the largest scales, Li-Fi has potential for satellite-to-satellite networking, as once again, the views remain unobstructed and the faster data rates are preferable to radio signals.
With a handful of use cases in mind, we can explore the new standard to see what Li-Fi can currently do and what it is expected to do in the near future.
The IEEE standard for Li-Fi is designated with 802.11bb. This designation currently covers infrared Li-Fi, meaning there is room for expansion with visible and UV Li-Fi in the future.
Current commercial devices that adhere to the standard support data rates ranging from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Clearly, not all devices are created equally, but the current top speeds for Li-Fi are superior to most existing wireless networking options, and as the standard expands to support faster versions of Li-Fi, you can expect to see the new technology replace Wi-Fi in high-end settings (like data centers).
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