How LiFi will transform the way we communicate
LiFi is a disruptive technology that is poised to impact a large number of industries. LiFi can unlock the Internet of Things (IoT), drive Industry 4.0 applications, enable ‘Light as a Service’ (LaaS) in the lighting industry, contribute to 5G and 6G cellular communications, enable new intelligent transport systems, enhance road safety when there are more and more driverless cars, create new cyber-secure wireless networks, and enable new ways of health monitoring of aging societies, and offer new solutions to close the digital divide.
At the University of Edinburgh, the unique LiFi Research and Development Centre is developing high ‘Technical Readiness Level’ LiFi platforms that will accelerate the industrial uptake of LiFi technologies in all of these industrial sectors. This is achieved through strategic industrial partnerships and collaborations as well as licensing models of a rapidly growing patent portfolio.
The Centre will help seed the LiFi market by providing platforms that can be used to establish the commercial viability of novel LiFi technologies. It will catalyse an eco-system of unique LiFi technologies and applications. For example, I can already see an army of App developers for applications that run on future light bulbs.
Establishing the ‘foundations’ of LED as a viable communication source
13 years ago we started to look into alternative solutions to radio frequency (RF) communications for delivering wireless data. This curiosity driven research was motivated by the fact that the radio frequency spectrum is limited, and if wireless data services become very successful, which they have, it would be obvious that the radio frequency spectrum used for cellular communications would not be sufficient.
It has always been difficult to identify new RF spectrum as it is a heavily used resource for civil, but also military, radio astronomy and defence applications. At the same time, white high brightness LEDs hit the market. These LEDs are semiconductor devices, which means that the light intensity could be changed very rapidly, a property needed if one would like to use them for high speed data communication. Moreover, by recognising that the light spectrum is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the same as the RF spectrum, we were intrigued to find out, what data transmission speeds can be achieved with LEDs.
We pioneered ‘Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing’ (OFDM), a well-known technique for RF communications, for the use in visible light communications. OFDM has a number of disadvantages in RF communications, which we managed to turn into advantages when we applied it to LEDs given that the light spectrum is 1000 times larger than the entire RF spectrum (if the RF spectrum is the Earth, the light spectrum would be the sun).
This has enabled a breakthrough in achievable data rates with standard off-the-shelf LEDs. We started by demonstrating image transmission via desk lamps in 2006 (which has led to the nomination in a book authored by Nobel Laureate, Professor Haensch, “100 Produkte der Zukunf” (100 Products of the Future)), and later in 2011 the transmission of real-time videos from $3 LED lights at TED Global, where we coined ‘LiFi’ for the first time.
In our latest research we have shown that with special light sources it is possible to achieve 100 Gbps. This is about 15 times faster than the fasted Wi-Fi, called WiGig operating in the 60 GHz RF spectrum.
We have also created a spin-out company, pureLiFi Limited, to develop the first commercial LiFi wireless networking product based on the technology developed here at the University of Edinburgh. pureLiFi is the only company in the world that delivers true LiFi products. pureLiFi launched their third generation product, LiFi-X, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2016.
At the LiFi R&D Centre, we have also pioneered the use of solar cells as energy harvesting devices while at the same time acting as LiFi receivers capable of receiving data streams greater than 10 Mbps from a single panel. This technology could be used to mitigate the digital divide which is a major problem since it creates a barrier for these regions to participate in the rapidly growing data centric 21 century economies. The LiFi solar cell receiver technology was demonstrated for the first time in a TED Global 2015 talk (http://bit.ly/1WbR6yC).
LiFi’s significant potential in the years ahead
The potential of LiFi is massive, and it can have a catalytic effect for the merger of two major industries: the wireless communications industry, and the lighting industry.
LiFi has the potential to create an entire new industry due to its transformative and catalytic effects in a large number of industries as outlined above.
Take ’Smart Cities’ as an example: First, the LED revolution causes radical changes in the lighting industry since the lifespan of an LED light bulb is now longer than the lifespan of a car. This means that old business models become invalid, and the industry is now going through fundamental changes similar to the photography industry when digital photography arrived. This can be witnessed by the fact that Philips are selling their lighting business after 123 years.
Lights in the future will need to become smart sensing devices and high speed data communication devices, and they are probably not going to be replaced because they fail, but because there are new functions and applications that light will enable – this will be similar to what we experience with smartphone releases nowadays.
In fact, it is very likely that the lighting industry will go through developments similar to the mobile communications industry during the last 25 years. The first mobile phones served one purpose/application: mobile telephony. Now, smartphones serve thousands of applications. The incandescent light bulb has served one application: lighting.
In 25 years from now, the LED lightbulb will serve thousands of applications and will be an integral part of the emerging smart cities, smart homes and the IoT, and LaaS will be a dominating theme in the industry which will drive the new business models. LaaS in combination with LiFi will, therefore, provide a business model driven ‘pull’ for the lighting industry to take market shares from what has traditionally been a wireless communications market.
Likewise, the wireless communications industry has the opportunity to enter the lighting market by offering products that will provide wireless connectivity through lights. The emerging IoT and 5G (and beyond) combined with LiFi will create a technology driven (since RF spectrum will not be sufficient) ‘push’ for this trend.
In the future, we will see a scenario where a mobile operator sells wireless access points and lights at the same time, while similarly, a traditional lighting company will become a wireless operator selling wireless connectivity and lights at the same time – essentially, both will be part of a new eco-system of a larger new single industry.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”