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Li-Fi vs Wi-Fi: What You Need to Know

By       Message Kayla Matthews       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Have you ever had one of those moments where you wished your Wi-Fi network was just a little bit faster? The real issues start when you put some distance between whatever device you're browsing on and the wireless gateway you're using to connect to the internet. If you're in a big building with a lot of surface area, then spotty coverage is inevitable and speeds can slow down considerably.

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Furthermore, when it comes to bandwidth-hungry activities like gaming or streaming, Wi-Fi can really hold things back at times. It just doesn't offer the same speeds as a wired Ethernet connection, and that's understandable.

But a new technology called Li-Fi is purported to be 100 times faster than traditional Wi-Fi, meaning it can transfer data at much faster speeds and rates.

Laboratory tests show that transfer speeds of Li-Fi can reach a rate of up to 224 gigabits per second. That's exponentially faster than the best Wi-Fi performance -- offered by an 802.11ac-ready device at speeds of up to several gigabits per second.

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If you were to admit that you've never heard of the technology before, you'd be forgiven. It's relatively new and has gone under the radar.

What Is Li-Fi?

Interestingly enough, Li-Fi gets its name from the fact that it requires a light source to work properly, and yes, you read that correctly. Li-Fi technology uses protocols like the RF band 802.11 -- in Wi-Fi -- to transfer data. Because of this, it doesn't interfere with radio signals, which is definitely an advantage.

The term "Li-Fi" was originally coined back in 2011 by Professor Herald Haas of Edinburgh University. He first unveiled the technology during a demonstration at a TED conference, where he showed that an LED light bulb could be used to stream video wirelessly.

Sadly, there are a couple of significant drawbacks to this new technology that might prohibit its use in the near future, at least until they can be ironed out.

The first problem is that Li-Fi cannot be used in direct sunlight. This is because Li-Fi requires a light source, as we mentioned previously, and sunlight can interfere with the light-based signals needed to transfer data.

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The other problem is that Li-Fi cannot travel or pass through walls, so it's only useful in a single confined area or room. In order for Li-Fi to work, connected devices must maintain a line of sight to one another, and while this certainly gives better control over emissions, it can affect the total transmission distance. As of right now, we don't truly understand the limitations of this technology in terms of distance.

This is disconcerting, considering Li-Fi has much faster speeds, will not meet interference from radio signals and has a much larger spectrum: 10,000 times the size of radio waves.

Where Li-Fi could really make an impact is in environments where Wi-Fi is unsafe, like in hospitals.

When Will Li-Fi Be Available?

This technology is not something that will be available to consumers tomorrow or even within the next few years. There are still many more things that need to be done to understand the limitations and capabilities of Li-Fi.

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Kayla Matthews is an IT journalist and blogger. You can also find her work on The Huffington Post and MakeUseOf.

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