The tungsten lightbulb has served well over the century or so since it was introduced, but its days are numbered now with the arrival of LED lighting, which consume a tenth of the power of incandescent bulbs and have a lifespan 30 times longer. Potential uses of LEDs are not limited to illumination: smart lighting products are emerging that can offer various additional features, including linking your laptop or smartphone to the internet. Move over Wi-Fi, Li-Fi is here.

Wireless communication with visible light is, in fact, not a new idea. Everyone knows about using smoke signals on a desert island to try to capture attention. Perhaps less well known is that in the time of Napoleon much of Europe was covered with optical telegraphs, otherwise known as the semaphore.

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, actually regarded the photophone as his most important invention, a device that used a mirror to relay the vibrations caused by speech over a beam of light.

In the same way that interrupting (modulating) a plume of smoke can break it into parts that form an SOS message in Morse code, so visible light communications – Li-Fi – rapidly modulates the intensity of a light to encode data as binary zeros and ones. But this doesn’t mean that Li-Fi transceivers will flicker; the modulation will be too fast for the eye to see.

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