A startup with offices in India and Estonia is developing a smart LED light-bulb that can also act as a wireless hotspot through the use of light-based Li-Fi rather than WiFi. The technology could be used to transfer data at speeds much faster than Wi-Fi; it has reached speeds of 224 Gbps (gigabytes per second) in lab tests, while real-world speeds currently top out at around 1 Gbps.
Velmenni, founded in 2013, said its Jugnu smart bulb (pictured) could offer advantages over Wi-Fi in a variety of circumstances. Although Li-Fi has some limitations compared to Wi-Fi based on radio waves -- it stops working, for example, when the light beam is blocked by a hand or any other solid object -- it promises to be useful in smart home and other applications, according to the company.
The company has already successfully used its Li-Fi LED to transfer text, photos and streaming audio. It is currently working on an Android app that would work with the technology, and exploring applications in which smart light bulbs could transfer data to other LEDs, smartphones and the Internet.
Works Underground, Underwater
Velmenni was recently named as one of four finalists in the Slush 100 pitching competition held in Helsinki earlier this month. Slush organizers noted the company's technology "can be a good compliment [sic] to exciting RF technology (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and other RF systems). It can be used for communication where RF cannot such as aviation."
Compared to Wi-Fi communications, light-based Li-Fi offers the benefits of free and unlicensed spectrum, security, fast speeds and energy efficiency. The technology aims to be useful in areas where radio-based communication is ineffective: underwater, for example, or underground in tunnels and mines, according to Velmenni's LinkedIn page.
Li-Fi-based communications could also prove beneficial "wherever strong locality is required, such as museum/zoo exhibits," Velmenni said. It also has the potential to "convert every light source into a high speed data transmitter."
Radio Spectrum Increasingly Crowded
For now, however, much of the technology's potential remains speculative. "It is important to highlight that 1 Gbps transmission speeds from an off-the-shelf commercial LED light bulb have not been demonstrated, yet," according to Harald Haas, a University of Edinburgh researcher who specializes in mobile communications and Li-Fi.
Li-Fi could prove increasingly valuable because the rapid growth in wireless data traffic means "the radio frequency spectrum will not provide sufficient resources by 2025," Haas noted on his research Web site. "The visible light spectrum is 1,000 times larger than the entire 300 GHz of radio, micro wave and mm wave radio spectrum, so there is a big untapped reservoir of resources for wireless systems."
While Wi-Fi can achieve maximum data transfer speeds of 7 Gbps, laser-based white LEDs could, in theory, deliver speeds of up to 100 Gbps.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Oxford published a study showing they had achieved LED-based wireless connection speeds of 224 Gbps. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a wireless link of this type with a FOV [field of view] that offers practical room-scale coverage," they said.