When the concept of LiFi emerged a couple of years ago, it largely went unnoticed, only causing ripples among tech and connectivity circles. However, the unveiling of a fully functioning light bulb that can emit internet connections 100 times faster than conventional WiFi routers at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the technology has finally got commercial attention. Created by French startup, Oledcomm, the ‘Light Fidelity’ or LiFi bulbs harness the almost-undetectable flicker (thousands of tiny flashes every second) of LED bulbs as a conduit for information reaching speeds of a whopping 200 gigabytes per second.

With lighting giants Phillips having already expressed interest in the technology, and rumours that Apple’s iPhone 7 will have LiFi capabilities, it seems like it won’t be long before your humble desk lamp or cell phone will become your wireless gateway to the World Wide Web. It’s worth noting that there is one glaring (excuse the pun) limitation to the technology – devices attempting to connect via the LED bulb need to be in its direct light, meaning the signal won’t go through walls and floors like conventional WiFi. However, it is exactly for this reason that public places such as hospitals and schools are the most likely to adopt this new mode of connectivity as they often need to limit access to inside their walls anyway. Meanwhile, because LiFi bulbs can quite literally spotlight single users, their privacy attributes are certainly stronger than your average router.

Oledcomm’s LiFi system has already been deployed on Airbus planes, inside museums in France and Belgium and tested in public areas in Estonia and India. With the Internet of Things becoming more and more a reality in urban life and governance, the potential services provided and data collected by LiFi systems fortunately spread wider than the signal. Oledcomm imagine entire subway systems and their often confusing stations connected and responsive to commuters who are visually impaired, for example. Meanwhile, their installation in traditional street lights could not only save on electricity costs, but generate a huge amount of data from connected mobiles to inform cities on how their citizens move and interact with their urban environment.

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