LED technology to bring Wi-Fi over light

The University of Strathclyde is developing micron-sized LEDs which could be used to provide internet connectivity

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could be the answer to furthering internet connectivity, according to a new study led by the University of Strathclyde.

Calling it Li-Fi, researchers from the consortium of UK universities working on the project –  including Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh and St Andrews – claimed internet communications could be transferred over light rather than the current invisible frequencies, such as radio waves and microwaves

LEDs flicker thousands of times every second but by changing the length of time between each flicker, digital information can be sent over the frequencies created – something the researchers likened to “the digital equivalent of Morse Code."

These could then link up to specially designed PCs or mobile devices, much like the current standards in Wi-Fi allow today.

A lot of the funding for the four-year project – which came from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – is going on shrinking the size of LEDs. The micron-sized lights the researchers are working on can flicker on and off 1,000 times quicker than their larger counterparts, meaning transfer speeds would be quicker and more would be able to be deployed into a smaller space.

In numbers, this would mean a 1mm² patch of micron LEDS could send one million times as much information as a single 1mm² LED.

If the research continues successfully, it could mean the LEDs could work with a dual purpose, lighting a venue or a room, but also providing internet connectivity.

Professor Martin Dawson from the University of Strathclyde, who is leading the project, said: “Imagine an LED array beside a motorway helping to light the road, displaying the latest traffic updates and transmitting internet information wirelessly to passengers’ laptops, netbooks and smartphones. This is the kind of extraordinary, energy-saving parallelism that we believe our pioneering technology could deliver.

“This is technology that could start to touch every aspect of human life within a decade.”

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