BARCELONA—PureLiFi is working on a LiFi dongle that's roughly half the size of the LiFi-X device launched at last year's Mobile World Congress.
PCMag was shown 3D-printed prototype cases for the new device, and while we weren't allowed to take any pictures, we can say that one of them was about the same size and shape of a Roku Streaming Stick while the other was more akin to your typical USB dongle.
In terms of functionality, the new device will operate exactly like the LiFi-X, connecting Windows and Mac devices to the Internet via light from power over Ethernet-connected LED bulbs, like Lucibel's Luminaire.
PureLiFi spokespeople wouldn't tell us what the new device will be called, but they have a name and plan to launch it in Q3 this year.
Don't plan on rushing out to the shops, though; this new toy will be sent out to potential industry partners who will provide feedback to PureLiFi's R&D team. As well as working on the next iteration of its LiFi dongles, the Edinburgh-based startup is continuing to develop relationships with potential business partners including Cisco, which is working on adding LiFi switches to routers and most recently BT, as reported by V3 last month.
Part of the appeal of PureLiFi's technology is that virtually any LED bulb you can buy in the shops now can be retrofitted. This has near limitless potential once you consider that every light fitting, from a street light to a bedside table lamp could turn into an access point, supporting up to 10 devices at a time with no drop in quality. The current top speeds possible via the Luminaire system is 42Mbps, but LiFi is theoretically capable of delivering speeds in excess of 100Gbps.
PureLiFi's CEO Alistair Banham is an industry veteran, formerly president and general manager of ON Semiconductor's EMEA markets and head of global sales at Philips Semiconductors. He's excited about the variety of feedback PureLifi's been getting from partners, who have all unanimously hailed LiFi as a disruptive technology.
"We're beginning to see more and more interest to put this technology or trial this technology in those different areas," Banham said. "Location-based services, hotspot management, all these areas where you can actually use LiFi to provide a pretty good service.
"You know what it's like in airports, you try to get on the Wi-Fi at Edinburgh or Luton and you keep getting kicked off, you get frustrated. If you had a [LiFi] hotspot somewhere in that environment, where you have four or five Luminaires with LiFi on them, there's a nice business case for providers there."
Unfortunately for PCMag, we weren't able to fully avail ourselves of these benefits at Mobile World Congress and tell you how good it is. Even though there were working LiFi bulbs mounted in the ceiling of the Scottish Development International stand and a working LiFi-X dongle, PureLiFi didn't have any Mac drivers for us to install on our trusty old 2012 MacBook Pro. It would have been wonderful to have filed this article via a LiFi connection, but that act of fourth wall meta japery will have to wait.
Luckily we were able to play around with a Microsoft Surface, which was set up to work with the LiFi-X. What's great about the LiFi standard is that it works with Wi-Fi instead of replacing it, or as Banham says, it's "complementary and additive."
Placing a hand over the LiFi-X's sensor disrupted the flow of light, therefore killing the connection. As the Surface was still connected to Wi-Fi, we were able to carry on browsing the web as normal, although not at a noticeably slower speed. The Scottish Development International stand also had the benefit of being probably the only stand at MWC where the Wi-Fi didn't totally suck.
Handing over between connected lights is seamless, so in Banham's airport scenario, people could stay connected as they moved around. This could also be used to track the movements of people as their phones hand over between access points, which has the potential to assist with things like turn-by-turn navigation. This would be especially handy in the labyrinthine corridors of Heathrow, especially in the event of last-minute gate changes.
It'll be a while before LiFi sender and receiver modules can be built in to laptops, tablets, and phones, but work is underway on handover and multipathing with LiFi and cellular data streams.
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"We're working on the standards and we're heading a topic interest group on 802.11. That comprises individuals from companies from all over the ecosystem. So that's telecoms companies, lighting companies, there's product companies that are all working with us to then take it, later this year, to a task group.
"Once that's been ratified, that will then form part of the 3GPP Revision 15, which then becomes part of the 5G standard. The point I want to to make is that if we go into the component space, we will be 5G-compliant and we're driving the standard to ensure that LiFi is part of that and interoperable with the RF protocols. We've got RF spectrum crunch at the moment with all of the cellular bands full up. Visible light gives us a great opportunity for unprecedented bandwidth and data."
This gives us a good estimate for when we can expect to see LiFi components worming their way into phones.