Li-Fi and the Industrial Internet

LEDs


Introduction

The article Tower Power suggests that Li-Fi growth will overshadow Wi-Fi. This is borne out by Industry analysts who project that the Li-Fi market will have a compound annual growth rate of 82% from 2013 to 2018 and be worth over $6 billion per year by 2018.

Li-Fi should also contribute to growth in the fiber optics industry. Fiber optic cabling will provide the back haul for Li-Fi systems, just as they do for cellular networks today.

Why all the Excitement Over Li-Fi?

Li-Fi technology is expected to be a key enabler of the emerging Industrial Internet. Also known as the “Internet of Things” the Industrial Internet will monitor sensors that will be connected to just about every device imaginable. The information from these sensors will be used to control devices from the Cloud, and also enable various devices to communicate directly with one another. Wi-Fi alone can’t handle the torrents of information passing between sensors, since the Radio Frequency spectrum is already crowded. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission warns that the Wi-Fi radio frequency spectrum is close to full capacity and pushing it further will have a dire impact on network performance. The Li-Fi Consortium sees Li-Fi as an ideal solution. Instead of transmitting data by radio waves, Li-Fi transmits via light produced by ordinary LED’s. The visible light spectrum is 10,000 larger than the radio frequency spectrum.

LED’s Come of Age

LED’s have a unique ability that goes beyond their use as energy-efficient lighting devices. They can be switched on and off within nanoseconds, which makes them super-fast transmitters of binary data. This flickering occurs faster than the eye can see, so even LED’s used for room lighting can be used to transmit data. Li-Fi may prove to be an easy and efficient way to interconnect Local Area Networks. No wires, no RF interference, no concerns about overcrowding the radio frequency spectrum.

The icing on the Li-Fi cake is the tremendous speed and data transmission capacity of Li-Fi networks. Li-Fi researchers have achieved data rates that are 250 times faster than other forms of broadband communications. Similar to fiber optics, which also transmit via light, key applications for Li-Fi include environments that are sensitive to electromagnetic interference, such as aircraft, nuclear power plants and hospitals.

What You See is What You Get

How do you determine the range of your wireless Li-Fi network? Instead of roaming around with a test device in hand, just look around to see what areas of your operation are illuminated by the visible light of the transmitting LED’s. It’s that simple. Direct line of sight isn’t necessary for Li-Fi to transmit signals. Light reflected off walls can achieve a data rate of 70 Mbit/s.

Another advantage of Li-Fi networks is that they are potentially more secure than other wireless systems. For example, Wi-Fi signals have a tendency to leak out of buildings where they can be easily intercepted. In contrast, Li-Fi signals are easily contained. Anything that blocks light, such as walls, can prevent Li-Fi signals from escaping. Li-Fi can be a solution for securing data networks within security-sensitive organizations including financial institutions, military bases and research facilities.

Outdoor Applications

At present, Li-Fi is not well suited for long range transmission outdoors where light signals may be hindered by rain, fog and other particulates in the atmosphere. However, large transmission arrays may help to extend the range of Li-Fi outdoors. Distance limitations aside, Li-Fi will be useful in outdoor applications, such as providing Internet service to downtown shoppers and pedestrians who are in close proximity to LED transmitters.