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Even when the airwaves clog up, Li-Fi will keep us connected


The internet is vital for many of us. We work, play, and socialize online. Internet access has even been recognized as a basic human right by the United Nations. But fears of an impending spectrum crunch persist.

As demands grow, particularly video streaming, our cellular and Wi-Fi networks are being strained to breaking point. One possible solution to alleviating the strain is Li-Fi, an interesting technology that allows the internet to come through LED lights.

What is Li-Fi?

Li-Fi allows you to transmit data using light. While Wi-Fi relies upon radio frequencies to send data, Li-Fi employs infra-red and ultra-violet light, as well as visible light, to send data back and forth. With PureLiFi’s implementation, a router connects to an access point via Ethernet cable, the access point connects to a Li-Fi-enabled LED light and modulates the light at extremely high speeds. You plug a dongle with a transmitter and receiver into your laptop or tablet and it sends and receives data from and to the light. You can use it just the same way you would use Wi-Fi to surf the web, stream a video, or upload files.

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

We’ve been following the progress of Li-Fi for the last couple of years. After seeing a demonstration at MWC earlier this year, we gave Edinburgh-based PureLiFi our cool tech award. The team has been hard at work since then to miniaturize the technology and it recently took the wraps off a new product – the LiFi-XC.

New and improved LiFi-XC

Previous demonstrations relied on the LiFi-X, a chunky dongle produced as a proof of concept to allow potential customers to test the technology. The new LiFi-XC is much sleeker, with an aluminum casing and a stylish design that resembles a premium USB thumb drive.

“We’ve focused on the miniaturization, productization, and robustness of the technology,” PureLiFi Chief Operating Officer, Harald Burchardt, told Digital Trends. “We also substantially reduced the power draw of the dongle, which is particularly important as we move towards integration.”

“We’re looking at a two to three-year time frame to be able to integrate our technology into devices.”

The LiFi-XC system is comprised of the USB dongle, which plugs into a tablet or laptop, and an access point which connects a router to an LED bulb. It is the first fully certified Li-Fi system, with FCC, UL Listing, and CE approval. It’s designed to be plug-and-play and offers support for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

We tried it out with a Microsoft Surface laptop and walked around the conference room of PureLiFi’s Edinburgh office while streaming a video. It worked flawlessly, offering speeds of 43 megabits per second (Mbps) up and down.

While LiFi-XC is a significant improvement over the original LiFi-X, the company is aiming to get the technology integrated into devices, in much the same way that Wi-Fi is integrated now.

“We were visited by the largest mobile manufacturers at MWC,” explains Burchardt. “We’re looking at a three-year time frame to be small enough for mass integration.”