In addition to its long-standing conventional role of providing illumination to indoor environments, electric lights could also soon serve as a means for providing high-speed Internet connections for computers and other hi-tech devices.
Scientists in the Estonian capital of Tallin are using LED smart lights to provide "Li-Fi" Internet connections to real world environments at much faster speeds and with greater security than conventional Wi-Fi networks.
The researchers are conducting the first real-world trials of of LiFi Internet by deploying the technology in some of Tallin's office and industrial facilities. The initial results have reportedly achieved data transmission speeds of as high as one gigabyte per second, a rate 100 times greater than the average Wi-Fi speed at present.
"We are doing a few pilot projects within different industries where we can utilise the VLC (visible light communication) technology," said Deepak Solanki, CEO of Velmenni to IB Times. "Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light.
"We are also doing a pilot project with a private client where we are setting up a Li-Fi network to access the internet in their office space."
Should its effectiveness prove sustainable in real world settings, Li-Fi technology has the potential to revolutionise Internet usage in both home and office environments by converting the electric lights that provide illumination into ultra-rapid wireless data transmission channels.
The technology was first developed in 2011 by University of Edinburgh scientist Harald Haas, who applied the principle of Visible Light Communication (VLC) to data transmission in tests employing a flickering LED bulb and light-sensitive receivers. VLC operates in a manner that is very similar to 19th century Morse code, using ultra rapid flashes of light to convey information in the form of binary data.
Haas's tests succeeded in using a single LED to transmit more data than a cellular tower, while the currently laboratory record is as high as 224 gigabits per second.
While some might fret that the incessant flickering of the LED bulbs used by Li-Fi for data transmission might be a maddening distraction, the process occurs so quickly that it's imperceptible.
In addition to extremely rapid speeds, other critical advantages of Li-Fi technology include enhanced security and reduced interference between Internet devices, given that visible light cannot pass through walls or other opaque barriers.
The technology also lends itself to quick and economical retrofitting, given that the only thing needed to convert a commonplace LED light bulb into a Li-Fi transmission device is install a small microchip.
Li-Fi also has potential environmental benefits by enabling a single electrical device to provide both illumination and wireless Internet connections.