Last night, I had to send out a mail immediately while I was having dinner at a certain high end restaurant. Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend had cellular data and hence I asked the manager of the restaurant if they had Wi-Fi on the premises. He apologized, smiled and kindly said ‘No’.
I was disappointed that a posh restaurant did not have support for what is considered a basic human right by the UN now. But I realized that establishing wireless internet access might not be feasible at all places at all times. Solution? Imagine a light bulb right above your table at the restaurant that could give you internet access at a speed a hundred times faster than W-Fi. Almost all of us would be aware of the concept of Li-Fi by now. The idea isn’t just hypothetical anymore.
Li-Fi, or Light Fidelity, is a form of visible light communication (VLC) technology that enables bidirectional, high speed and fully networked wireless transmission of data. To elaborate more technically – Li-Fi can be thought of as a subset of optical wireless communications (OWC) and could be a complement to RF communication (Wi-Fi or Cellular network).
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Li-Fi promises transfer speeds of up to 224 gigabytes/second, or a download speed of 1.5 gigabytes/ second, making it 100 times faster than current gen Wi-Fi. There are numerous advantages of Li-Fi over Wi-Fi but what truly grabs the attention of many technologists across the world is that Li-Fi is the biggest facilitator of IoT and Big Data. How, is the question!
Li-Fi for Big Data
Li-Fi uses LED bulbs as the source of data. Rapidly flickering light, at speeds beyond the processing capabilities of the human eye, allow information to flow at extremely high speeds. Analogous to an advanced technological Morse code, Li-Fi will enable transfers of large amounts of data wherever there is light. This shall facilitate high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets (called Big Data) to be transferred and processed at literally lightning fast speeds. Using Big Data to derive insights and decision making is not an alien premise for us anymore. In a world where Big Data helps us find solutions to multiple problems across all industrial paradigms, such transmission speeds shall not only enhance the processing speed of data but also enable cost-effective and innovative decision making.
Big Data has a close association with another concept rapidly growing in prominence – the Internet of Things. Nikola Serafimovski, director at Pure Li-Fi Ltd. says, “Li-Fi can play a role in transforming and merging the lighting ecosystem with telecommunications in a “Services via Light” approach”. Since the Industrial Revolution, IoT is the only thing that has created a buzz of similar intensity and is thus a subject of great significance to many. IoT has three principle elements to it: Sensors and physical devices, connectivity between devices and the network and thirdly, the Data.
Li-Fi for IoT
Light Fidelity comes as a medium of merger between these three elements. All you need is to add an electronic microchip to existing LED light bulbs to create fully functional Li-Fi transmitters, enabling almost every other light bulb to act like a data transmitter. Since light can be used as a sensor to pair up with any physical quantity like temperature, humidity or even speed to name a few, the lighting industry could use an apparatus as inexpensive as a photodetector to create a data receiver.
Li-Fi can thus provide a cost effect facility for data dissemination and data collection using the energy we spend on everyday lighting. Power consumption by LEDs is not a matter of concern as they can either be powered by a standard Ethernet cord or even solar cell charged batteries. This not only integrates forms of energy but also moves us towards a sustainable development model. A Li-Fi node (transmitter or receiver) is built on strong communication and networking capabilities of optical wireless communication above the TCP/IP layers to connect to nodes at all places and time, at the cost of very minimal capital expenditure or operational expenditure. This aids us in establishment of unprecedented level of connectivity and data links to satiate the ever increasing data demands at the cost of minimal additional resources.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have cited a few applications of Li-Fi in the IoT and Big Data sectors. A Li-Fi node can be used by astronauts to communicate data to and from Earth through satellite networks to communicate in a free space gravity environment in a reliable and secured manner. It can also be used by deep sea divers to either communicate with species across sea life or even by archaeologists excavating deep sea sites for ruins and evidences of historical events.
Similarly, light nodes can be utilized to search for petroleum and coal reservoirs or to track presence of nuclear elements underground. Machines, automobiles or any other industrial equipment can be paired with light nodes to provide real-time information about the operational and functional performances, issues or any other metrics. Vehicular communication seems to be so simplified now, considering the rear and front lights in vehicles can be used for data transfer for effective crash avoidance technologies. Would it not be amazing to have your refrigerator indicating the food items that might be nearing expiry or spoilage? Or would it not be convenient to have your refrigerator transmit information about the shortage of a particular food item to your smartphone and hence update your shopping list? The scope of applications of the Li-Fi and IoT integrated technology are endless.
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Of course, there are some disadvantages – Li-Fi has poor penetration through walls and there are no distinguishable signals during bright sunlight, but all of these can be fixed with alternative algorithms or provisions. I believe Li-Fi is here to revolutionize the world of data analytics and device connectivity across all aspects of our lives. It is not distant that we find Li-Fi enabled bulbs on streets, across villages, bus and train stations and even all restaurants.