LiFi research to revolutionise data downloads

high speed wireless internet

A new form of high speed wireless internet, which uses the lights in homes and offices to transmit data, could revolutionise the way we download and upload information in the future.

Researchers from Northumbria University, Newcastle and University College London (UCL) are developing a new type of organic LED (light-emitting diode) which will communicate with smart devices such as tablets and phones to download and upload huge amounts of data.

Known as ‘LiFi’ the new technology uses visible light communication to transmit information – with lights such as those found in the ceiling of buildings turning on and off at a very high speed, not visible to the human eye, to communicate with LEDs in phone or tablet screens.

LiFi based links are  much faster than WiFi, which uses radio frequency waves, meaning that a film which may take an hour to download using WiFi could take just seconds using LiFi, with live streaming also much easier and reliable.

The research being carried out by Northumbria and UCL focuses on the creation of a new low-cost, plastic all-organic LED which will be used to develop the world’s first complete visible light communications system.

Project lead Zabih Ghassemlooy is Professor of Optical Communications at Northumbria University and also heads up Northumbria’s renowned Optical Communications Research Group.

He said: “In the future almost all the lights we use in our homes and offices will be LED – they are cheaper, greener and more efficient, using up to 10 times less energy than traditional incandescent or fluorescent lights.

“Given the increasing amount of data we are all using, it therefore makes perfect sense to develop this LiFi technology so we can use our existing lighting infrastructure to provide fast internet in the future.

“The new LEDs being developed at UCL during this project not only provide light but will have additional functionality to allow them to communicate with other electronic devices, not only delivering data but receiving it back as well.”

As well as the increased speed, LiFi could deliver additional benefits over WiFi, including not exposing users to radio frequency radiation and being safe to use in areas such as hospitals, where WiFi cannot be used due to the electromagnetic interference it causes.

With its ability to allow electronic devices to communicate with each other, LiFi could also successfully be used within homes and work places, as well as for car-to-car communications; underwater communications systems between various manned and unmanned platforms; for communication between handheld devices and as an enabler for local positioning systems.

It is envisioned that smartphones will play a major role in the delivery of LiFi networks, with the technology expected to be in everyday use in the next 5 to 10 years.

The three-year project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will run until September next year.

Dr Alessandro Minotto, a Research Associate working at UCL in the group of Professor Franco Cacialli, said: “Plastic LEDs are fabricated using carbon-based organic semiconductors, which act both as charge-transporting and light-emitting materials. Depending on the chemical structure and composition, organic semiconductors can emit light in a broad spectral range, spanning from the whole visible range to the near-infrared. Among the several technological advantages with respect to inorganic semiconductors, organic ones are soluble in many solvents, including water in some cases. Thanks to this property, organic LEDs can be fabricated using roll-to-roll compatible techniques, such as blade- and spray-coating, or via inkjet printing, which offers the additional ease of direct patterning.

Professor Cacialli added: "I am very grateful to the EPSRC for funding this exquisitely interdisciplinary project with our colleagues from Newcastle and UCL, and for giving us the opportunity to explore further the applicability of OLEDs in the visible and "nearly visible" ranges. It will be powerful to leverage recent results in our group on near-infrared light-emitting diodes, in addition to those on visible-emitting ones. We are excited about the possible applications of these technologies, not only "last meter(s) communications" to alleviate wi-fi bandwidth shortages and leveraging synergistic developments with OLED illumination systems, but also, for example, for the automotive sector, as inspired by the so-called ISELED concept."

The research is being led by Izzat Darwazeh, Professor of Communications Engineering at University College London; and Zabih Ghassemlooy, Professor of Optical Communications at Northumbria University. The research team also includes Professor Franco Cacialli, who leads the UCL group within the London Centre of Nanotechnology responsible for developing the novel organic devices for theproject. Professor Ioannis Papakonstantinou and Dr Paul Haigh of University College London, and Dr Hoa Le Minh and Dr Andrew Burton of Northumbria University are also involved in the research.

For more information about Northumbria’s Optical Communications Research Group visit http://soe.northumbria.ac.uk/ocr/

Hear more about the project from Professor Zabih Ghassemlooy, Dr Andrew Burton and Dr Paul Haigh – https://vimeo.com/290710458/27810b3f3e

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