Chinese Scientists Developing Internet Connections Through LED Light Bulbs

Sunday, 20 Oct 2013 03:37 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Chinese scientists have invented a method to transmit internet signals through lightbulbs — or LiFi — in a method that's being hailed as a way that will allow people to go online more easily and cheaply than through traditional WiFi signals.

According to a report from state news agency Xinhua late this past week, the technology will allow up to four computers sitting under just a single one-watt LED lightbulb to go online, using a principle that allows light to carry signals instead of traditional radio frequencies.

Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom coined the phrase "LiFi" to refer to light communications to deliver high-speed connections similar to the more-familiar WiFi. The technology has been around for some time, but hasn't been commercially developed.

"There are around 14 billion light bulbs worldwide, they just need to be replaced with LED ones that transmit data," Hass told New Scientist in 2011. "We reckon VLC is a factor of ten cheaper than WiFi."

The technology could be used safely in aircraft, hospitals and other places where WiFi is not allowed, or even underwater.

Chi Nan, an information technology professor with the Fudan University in Shanghai, said the special LED lightbulbs, which will have embedded microchips, will be able to produce data as fast as 150 megabits per second, or faster than China's average broadband connections allow.

The current WiFi signal transmission equipment is expensive in China and not efficient, said Chi, leader of a LiFi research team that includes scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems," she explained. "The energy utilization rate is only 5 percent."

In addition, the number of lightbulbs that can be used is limitless.
"Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an Internet signal," said Chi. "Turn off the light and there is no signal."

The technology will go on display at a China trade show next month, but the actual development is still in its experimental stage because of work still going on with key related pieces of the technology, including light communication controls and microchip design.

There are some drawbacks to LiFi, though.

"There has been a lot of early hype, and there are some very good applications," Mark Leeson, of the University of Warwick, UK, told New Scientist. "But I'm doubtful it's a panacea. This isn't technology without a point, but I don't think it sweeps all before it, either."

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