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Science & Technology

What Is Li-Fi And When Will You Use It To Download Everything Faster?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a new way to log onto the Internet if you work in Estonia, and it's as easy as flipping a light switch. Actually, that's how the signals are transmitted, through light. The technology has just been tested in an industrial building in Estonia. Li-Fi, as it's called, was 100 times faster than an average home Wi-Fi connection. We reached Li-Fi's developer, Professor Harald Haas at the University of Edinburgh.

HARALD HAAS: Li-Fi works in similar way to Wi-Fi except it doesn't use radio for data communication. It uses LED lights. LED lights are little electronic devices, a little bit like transistors. And it allows us to change the intensity, the brightness of the light, and these changes encode binary information - ones and zero - in a very, very fast, fast manner.

SIMON: It's not just Li-Fi's speed that's attractive, but the spaciousness of the light spectrum. The traditional radio wave spectrum is becoming overcrowded with users. Don't we know that?

HAAS: We are running into what we call the spectrum crunch. Everyone has observed the terrible slow Wi-Fi in a hotel or in an airport where too many people have to share a limited spectrum. And exactly that shortage is overcome with this really big resource of light.

SIMON: There are drawbacks, of course. Light can be blocked. Light waves don't pass through walls, but that might also help make some Li-Fi systems more secure. Besides, light bulbs, which could effectively act as routers, shine just about everywhere. It uses the power and speed of light to carry information.

HAAS: Oh, the future is magnificent. If you look into where you have LED lights, you have it in your ceilings, you have it in your cars, you have it in streetlamps, so it's basically turning every LED light into a wireless communication device.

SIMON: But what if you like to watch videos in the dark? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.