China leads the charge of the light brigade

opinion November 06, 2017 01:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief executive Officer,
Bangkok Bank (China)

CHINESE TECHNOLOGISTS have had a “light-bulb moment” that could dramatically change the way we communicate.



A team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is leading the global development of LiFi, also known as light fidelity, a technology with the potential to revolutionise data transfer and how we connect with our devices. 

They say LiFi, which is many orders of magnitude faster than WiFi, will be ready within the next six years thanks to their research.

The technology uses visible light instead of radio waves to transmit data, with the potential to do this through LED lightbulbs. Maximum data transfer speeds in Chinese tests have exceeded 50Gbps meaning a video could be downloaded in a third of a second, compared to the fastest WiFi technology of less than 10Gbps.

LiFi is also far more robust and adaptable. Other advantages include:

l LiFi suffers minimal interference, unlike radio waves 

l LiFi can be transmitted through salt water, so could be used in a host of marine applications for which WiFi is not viable 

l WiFi uses three main frequencies, whereas LiFi uses tens of thousands, and 

* LiFi is much more reliable in densely populated areas. 

While LiFi has a shorter transmission distance – about 10 metres compared with 30 metres for WiFi – the fact that it cannot travel through walls could be a distinct security advantage, reducing the risk of unauthorised people accessing your data network.

German scientists made the initial breakthrough with LiFi but Chinese technologists are taking it to another level by focusing on the materials used to manufacture the transmitters and receivers. 

Early LiFi used rare earth metals to produce the light. The Chinese scientists, however, successfully created an alternative that uses a carbon nano-material that is safer, faster and much more readily available than rare earth metals. This makes it cheaper and easier to produce so the benefits of the technology can be more widespread.

While LiFi may ultimately replace WiFi, that is not the initial plan. 

The two technologies can complement each other, combining their respective strengths to build faster, more reliable networks for organisations and individuals.

Even in this stage of development LiFi is already proving a faster, more dynamic system than WiFi and scientists expect its maximum speeds will increase into the hundreds of gigabits-per-second once the technology is up and running. 

Such speeds would enable new forms of communications and technologically enhanced modes of living and doing business, as well as making the Internet of Things a viable reality.

As it leads the charge of the LiFi brigade, China is again showing its determination to win the technology battle. But no matter who wins, we will all benefit in the end.