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Researchers achieve speedy internet with LED lightbulbs

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I just installed Wi-Fi in a new apartment. After paying for a costly modem, router and installation fee, I’m still stuck with a high monthly bill for slow internet speeds.

It makes Li-Fi — where light, instead of Wi-Fi radio signals, takes care of data transfer — sound like an elegant solution. According to Chinese news outlet Xinhua, a team of researchers in China report they have successfully created an LED lightbulb that can deliver data as fast as 150 megabits per second. That’s not exactly Google Fiber speeds, but it is faster than the U.S. average of 8.8 Mbps.

Li-Fi lightbulbs are equipped with a microchip that sends and receives signals by quickly flickering light, similar to how Wi-Fi works with radio signals. Up to four computers could connect to each lightbulb.

“Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an internet signal,” research team lead Chi Nan told Xinhua. “Turn off the light and there is no signal.”

The technology has been around for years now, though connectivity this fast is new. My colleague Stacey Higginbotham delved into Li-Fi in January, when she noted there are already companies like mLED commercializing similar technology.

The researchers told Xinhua that there is still work to be done before their 150 Mbps system is ready for consumers. Key components like the design of the chip and how they are manufactured still need to be developed.

But when they are, it could be an inexpensive option for getting online, as existing bulbs could be outfitted with Li-Fi kits. The researchers will showcase samples of the kits next month in Shanghai.

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9 Responses to “Researchers achieve speedy internet with LED lightbulbs”

  1. archonic

    How exactly is a wireless signal through a lightbulb an elegant solution? You’d still have to pay for the modem and the give the greedy ISP’s their demands. In fact you’d need a whole lot more equipment to interpret the signals to LED and then back from LED. Then you would need line-of-sight to get any signal at all.

    The TED talk is talking about replacing radio towers with networks that dispense their signals with visible light. What if several people wanted a signal in the same room? Not an unreasonable expectation.

  2. The technology being described is known as Free Space Optics (FSO). It has been around for well over 10 years. I worked on FSO systems in 2001. I can tell you he’s conflating multiple concepts and so he looses some credibility. For example, yes visible light has far more spectrum than licensed radio. However, his technology isn’t doing frequency division multiplexing it’s doing baseband modulation. So they are turning the whole visible spectrum on and off to create “1” and “0”. So spectrum doesn’t matter. Second he creates the impression that the technology would work for cell tower. His technology won’t. There are some FSO technologies that can but they get knocked out in fog and so the carriers won’t deploy it. His technology is for very very very very very short distances. If it worked over more than a couple of meters I would be shocked. You saw how close the lamp was to the receiver, less than a foot. That was done on purpose. FSO fails because of physics and physics isn’t going to change.

  3. If you are going to be so literal about what its called then next time you see a doctor make sure he tells you in medical terms what is wrong with you and i bet you wont have a clue unless ur a doctor yourself. Plain english to the general public will get the most responce. so call led a light bulb then list the actual meaning in small print for those of you that are to anal to call it a light bulb. Professional also has to relate to the general public. Either way its not what we call it that matters, its if it works. Thats the incredible factor here. awsome technology!

    • When you deal with the general public, if you don’t use words that they already understand, you have to take the time to educate them on the proper terminology. To the public, if it screws into a lamp and generates light, it’s a light bulb.

      I’m amazed at how many people don’t know that LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. So while we grump over his loose terminology, he’s going to make a billion dollars with his LED light bulb.