Li-Fi and the iPhone

The iPhone remains one of the most popular models of smartphone around the world and evidence has shown that Apple, the manufacturer of the phone, are implementing changes to it that will allow it to access Li-Fi networks.  Li-Fi is the latest advance in wireless internet technology using light waves to replace radio frequencies used in Wi-Fi and looks set to offer higher speeds with better security, making it an appealing proposition to smartphone users.

High speed changes

Li-Fi uses visible light communication to send and receive high speed data with the potential for speeds approaching 100 times that of current Wi-Fi systems.  Since it was first displayed by Professor Harald Haas of the University of Edinburgh back in 2011, researchers around the world have been developing practical uses for the system as well as ways to adapt existing systems to utilise it.

Researchers have already shown that speeds of 224 gigabits per second can be achieved under laboratory conditions.  In the real world, this would mean 18 HD films could be downloaded in just one second.  The system has also shown to suffer from less interference than Wi-Fi as well as having a naturally better security factor because the signals cannot pass through walls.

While the wall restriction means that Li-Fi might not completely replace Wi-Fi in some cases, it looks set to work alongside it to offer high speed, ultra-secure connections within a building.  And for this reason, Apple are clearly preparing their top-selling iPhone to access Li-Fi.

All in the code

Developer Chase Fromm was the one who noticed a line of code in the iOS 9.1 firmware that said ‘LiFi Capability’.  This would suggest that the next generation of the smartphone, the iPhone 7, could automatically have the capacity to use Li-Fi.  The phone is expected to be released later this year.

The company were contacted for a response to the code but their long-standing policy is to give very little away about developments to their products that have not yet happened.  Yet other sources also believe that Apple are testing Li-Fi with their devices, as are a number of other manufacturers.

Li-Fi works in a similar way to an infrared remote control that operates your TV or DVD player.  The data is sent via a light source that rapidly modulates and is received by a sensor.  The data is then reassembled into an electronic signal.

However, unlike the TV remote, Li-Fi makes use of visible light and the modulation happens in a way that the eye simply cannot see.  This is why the light bulb in a hallway could act as a data transmitter and receiver while still providing light to the room.

New hardware

As well as the code included in the software for the new iPhone, Apple are also believed to working on hardware to implement the use of Li-Fi systems.  Their parent application of 2013 described a method of ‘optical modulation’ that uses an image sensor.  This sensor would have the ability to change from image capture to data capture modes.  This would allow the device to add the capacity for Li-Fi as well as its current use so no extra hardware would be required within the smartphone.

The company has already added a blue light reduction feature to its operating system that many experts believe is the first acknowledgement that blue light can be hazardous to the health and therefore VLC based systems would be a safer option.

Safe light

One of the main reasons that Li-Fi is gaining popularity is because it doesn’t cause any health problems.  Some people are effected by the signals from Wi-Fi’s radio waves, especially when living or working close to masts.

There are various levels on the electromagnetic spectrum that can be used for communications but many of them come with associated issues.  Radio waves are at one end with infra-red also on the list, used in those TV remotes.  Then there is visible light used in Li-Fi which is safe to use and has a very large bandwidth compared with radio waves.  At the other end of the scale are ultra violet light that is harmful to human health and X-rays that are used in hospital.  Finally, there are gamma rays that are also possibly harmful and therefore not used.

Applications

One example of a company already making developments with Li-Fi technology is called Velmenni, based in Tallinn, Estonia.  Last year they were one of the first to show real world applications for the Li-Fi technology.  The start-up implemented a commercial system within offices and industrial environments across Estonia that made use of Li-Fi.

CEO Deepak Solanki said that the company have been testing a number of pilot projects using various visible light communication technologies such as Li-Fi.  These include smart lighting systems for industrial buildings where the data can also be sent as well as a private client project where Li-Fi is used to access the internet within the office space.

Solanki believes that while Li-Fi may not completely replace Wi-Fi for general use, it could supplement the system and provide extra space for the multitude of devices we all have to use the internet with.  He believes that the success of projects such as his company’s could see the roll out of similar networks to home consumers within three to four years.

Mass adoption

The biggest problem facing those working on Li-F is that existing devices will need to be retrofitted to be able to access the system.  But the potential for new devices to be developed going forward already seems to be huge.  Professor Haas, speaking at a TED talk recently, said that in the future, every LED lightbulb could act as an ultra-fast Li-Fi hot spot.

All that is needed to transform a simple bulb into a Li-Fi component is the use of a small microchip.  This device would then allow the bulb to provide illumination as well as transmit the wireless data.  So in the future, there could be 14 million light bulbs and 14 million Li-Fi spots, allowing for a greener and brighter future.