The light revolution

How LED lights could be a game changer for wifi

January 31, 2017

Could a remarkable new technology which uses onboard LED lights to deliver wifi soon find its way onto commercial aircraft, asks Benjamin Coren

At this year’s Aviation Festival in London an exciting new technology was creating a buzz in the AirXperience seminars focused on passenger experience innovation.

Li-Fi (light fidelity) is a revolutionary new method of delivering high-speed internet via LED lights and its inventor, Harald Haas, professor of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh, explained how the new technology could mark the future of onboard wifi delivery.

Li-Fi uses the light emitted from LEDs to send binary data. A receiver on the user’s device takes in the light and turns it back into data, in a similar way to the technology that powers a TV remote control but using light not infra-red.

Li-Fi seemingly trumps existing wifi delivery as it has a potentially unlimited bandwidth, making use of the light spectrum, which results in zero interference. it is ideal for aircraft and depending on the type of LED in use, the bandwidth can be potentially huge, making it a fast and secure option.

Haas identified a number of competitive advantages over wifi. The new technology is energy efficient and comparatively lightweight and makes use of existing onboard fittings. There is increased localisation (meaning every seated individual would have their own personal access point), and better security due to the fact that light cannot travel through the aircraft walls; they provide a physical security barrier.

Haas is ready to smash a number of misconceptions about the technology. Critics suggested users could not dim the lights and that it may fail with interference from sunlight but Haas said: “Li-Fi is not a line of sight technology, and data can still be transferred by light bouncing around the room, or aircraft cabin. The applications are numerous. In aircraft cabins Li-Fi could provide megabits of data per person onboard and there are already plenty of places within the aircraft an individual LED can be placed to deliver Li-Fi connectivity.”

The Li-Fi product is currently distributed via the company pureLiFi, and the products now available are in their third generation. The latest innovation is a dongle receiver no bigger than a business card, with the ability to deliver speeds of up to 40mbps.

Professor Haas said: “Light in the future will not only illuminate but will be the way we share information too. Light could provide hundreds and thousands of services.”

Whether or not Li-Fi will leave wifi in the dust and take up the position of the new standard in internet delivery is yet to be seen, however it provides an exciting alternative for internet access not just on aircraft, but also trains, cruise ships, offices and even via street lights. It’s certainly one to watch!