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Will LiFi replace WiFi? IT ministry finds out if light can power the internet

29 January, 2018

The country’s IT ministry has successfully tested LiFi – a wireless commmunication technology – in a pilot jointly conducted with the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras and lighting company Philips India.

LiFi, or light fidelity, aims to replace WiFi by using lights to transmit internet signals. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are used as visible light transmitters.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the ministry tested the technology using LED bulbs and light spectrum to transmit data. LiFi speeds can touch as much as 10 GB per second over a 1-km radius.

The report stated that the technology was being tested as part of efforts to cover areas that cannot be reached by the existing fiber network.

Harold Haas, a professor of mobile communications at University of Edinburgh, had pioneered the technology. According to a research paper by the institution, LiFi can fulful two functions: high speed wireless networking and illumination.

LiFi supports multiuser access and handover to enable mobile services, the paper showed.

LiFi could be used in India’s upcoming Smart Cities – where IT will be the primary infrastructure – according to Neena Pahuja, director general of the Education and Research Network (ERNET), an autonomous scientific society under the IT ministry.

Pahuja was quoted as saying that the underlying theme of these Smart Cities will be Internet of Things (IoT) for modern city management and these areas will be connected by LED bulbs.

Pahuja added that the ministry soon plans to test the new technology in an open environment in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

ERNET had previously conducted the test in a closed environment with IIT-Madras and Philips.

Despite optimism, there are some hurdles to overcome. Pahuja said LiFi is unable to penetrate hard objects and needs a clear line of sight for transmission of signals. She said that a mesh of LED lights could be a possible solution.

Researchers at Bengaluru’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) have been working on improving the security of LiFi.

JNCASR researchers somewhat agree with Pahuja’s logic of using a mesh of lights to make LiFi transmission better.
“There is no distortion when light bounces of walls but the signal can get attenuated. We can reduce the attenuation to some extent by using more light bulbs, keeping the walls reflective and having large receivers,” professor KS Narayan from the Molecular Electronics Lab at JNCASR, was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

French firm Oledcomm has already started selling LiFi products. The company, which aims to solve internet connectivity issues at home and offices using the new technology, had earlier launched a lamp that works on light fidelity.

Internet connectivity
While the government has been trying to boost internet connectivity through its Digital India programme, several companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook have been trying to to develop technologies that will take to the internet to regions that fiber cannot serve.

Google has been working on its Project Loon that looks to deploy internet signals from a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space.

Microsoft had run pilots using its TV Whitespaces technology in a few locations. TV Whitespaces looks to use low-frequency bandwidths of the broadcasting spectrum that remain unused to relay internet signals.

Facebook, meanwhile, has launched a new service called Express WiFi that enables local entrepreneurs to launch WiFi hotspots. It had earlier tried to boost internet outreach in India through its Free Basics programme. However, the country’s telecom regulator had rejected Free Basics over net neutrality concerns.

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Will LiFi replace WiFi? IT ministry finds out if light can power the internet

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