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Let There Be Li-Fi

Researchers see light-emitting diodes as the Internet gateway for tomorrow's wireless gadgets. Larry Greenemeier reports

Here’s a bright idea: instead of radio waves, use light to get online. Unlike wi-fi, or wireless fidelity, so-called “li-fi” transmits data through variations in light intensity.

Researchers in China recently showed that, using a one-watt LED bulb, li-fi could connect four computers to the Internet at data transfer rates up to 150 megabits per second.

Earlier this year, German scientists sent data at three Gigabits per second using LED lamps, in controlled conditions in their lab. They later demonstrated 500 megabits per second speeds in a real-world setting. Most wi-fi connections don’t even come close to 100 megabits per second.

Li-fi has drawbacks. The technology works only when the LED’s light can reach the gadget. Stray from the LED, and you lose your connection. On the plus side, the visible light spectrum can handle way more traffic than wi-fi’s already crowded radio spectrum. And any LED bulb can be a network connection.

We may someday look back at wi-fi as technology from the dark ages.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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