The LED industry has struggled to establish its products for Li-Fi – a Wi-Fi alternative that uses light rather than radio frequencies to transmit. Now things have gotten tougher, as a major supplier to the laser industry has demonstrated a system that transmits 100 times faster than any LED demo.
Kyocera SLD Laser (KSLD) demonstrated a Li-Fi laser system at the recent CES show in Las Vegas in which a transmitter transmitted data at 100 gigabits per second. This surpasses the 1 Gbps that pureLiFi, the pioneer of LED Li-Fi, has shown.
While this is potentially good news in general for Li-Fi, it could help speed the end of the LED approach.
Before getting too carried away, note that the KSLD system only transmitted over a short distance of about one and a half meters. And he used a square gear (see photo) rather than a sleekly designed finished product. The miniaturization of a 100 Gbit/s product is still a few years away, although KSLD began a year ago to offer a finished product between 1 and 2 Gbit/s, which it makes available to system developers for applications such as on-board Li-Fi in aircraft. and for vehicle communications.
By comparison, LED Li-Fi vendors such as Edinburgh-based pureLiFi and Signify have been offering commercial products for several years, and they’re small enough to serve laptops, tablets and phones. Earlier this week LED magazine reported on a recent installation of Signify at a Long Island school. In December, the US Army refueled with pureLiFi.
But Li-Fi, which dates back at least to 2012 when Harald Haas, then a professor at the University of Edinburgh, co-founded pureLiFi, has suffered slow commercial progress. Sellers do indeed sell products, but usually in small environments. Mass adoption has eluded them, largely because most gadget makers don’t have Li-Fi circuits built-in. Li-Fi end users usually have to connect inconvenient dongles.
And while Li-Fi offers various potential advantages over Wi-Fi, it does not, in its LED form, clearly trump Wi-Fi in terms of speed. Li-Fi can be faster than Wi-Fi, but that’s not always the case. pureLiFi has demonstrated gigabit per second under controlled conditions, but real-world installations typically run slower. The Long Island school in Signify’s orbit is believed to have installed a 150Mbps system; actual uptimes would likely be slower.
This is the main reason why some experts believe that LEDs will give way to lasers and their superior speed as the future of Li-Fi, especially as developers like KSLD start to miniaturize their products.
Laser enthusiasts include none other than Nobel Prize-winning blue LED co-inventor Shuji Nakamura, who co-founded Santa Barbara-based SLD Laser. Japan’s Kyocera acquired SLD a year ago, creating KSLD, the company that showcased the 100 Gbps laser system at CES.
Nakamura isn’t the only LED legend now identified with the Li-Fi laser. The same could be said of Haas, widely considered the father of Li-Fi for his pioneering work with LED-based Li-Fi. While still the scientific director of pureLiFi, he is now also a senior advisor to KSLD, assisting the company in the development of the Li-Fi laser.
Haas works in this capacity not with its pureLiFi hat but via academia. The Professor changed universities in July 2020, leaving Edinburgh to become Distinguished Professor of Mobile Communications at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where he is also Director of the LiFi Research and Development Centre.
Haas has a long-standing interest in laser communications. In fact, pureLiFi itself recognized LED magazine last summer that “laser light will serve Li-Fi better”. It has developed a Li-Fi laser chip designed as an antenna to be integrated into phones and used as a transmitter.
KSLD and pureLiFi have not announced any partnerships.
The 100 Gbps that KSLD showed off at CES is five times the speed of its previous fastest 20 Gbps demonstration.
The future may well have a place for Li-Fi. It’s just that the “light-emitting diodes” that drive it could be lasers, rather than what the industry calls LEDs.
LED magazine recently interviewed Haas and KSLD’s senior vice president of business development, Paul Rudy, co-founder of SLD. We’ll tell you more about that story, including a look at how the CES demo works, possible applications for KSLD Li-Fi technology (spoiler: think avionics, for example), and a look at the possibility to use technology. for lighting (spoiler: yes and no).
BRAND HALPER is editor of LEDs Magazine and a journalist specializing in energy, technology and business ([email protected]).
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