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Oxford boffins blast 200Gbps over 3 meters using lightbulbs

Researchers have managed to transmit data at speeds of around 200Gbps over distances of three meters using light instead of WiFi or fibre. 

So-called FSO (free-space optics) promises virtually unlimited bandwidth and points towards a future where sending files in offices will be done by simply pointing your laptop or phone at a connected light fixture rather than having to connect to your work’s flaky access point. Three meters isn’t admittedly a great distance, but in work or domestic situatons it could be ideal. 

Similar to how projectors work, an array of liquid crystals is used to steer the light in the right direction, therefore minimising dispersal of light around a room. Attainable speeds vary greatly depending on the field of vision from the bulb to the receiver – a wider field of view allows the system to utilise more wavelengths and therefore give greater speeds.

At present, the technology works over a distance of three meters, so while you won’t get full LiFi coverage around a house using the current system, it could be used for one room, and further development is in the works to increase the viability of the tech for use within homes and businesses. 

Ariel Gomez, a PhD student in Photonics at Oxford University was quick to point out that LiFi probably won’t fully replace wired internet of WiFi any time soon, but agrees that the technology certainly has its place, achieving speed that wired systems could never dream of. Gomez said: “If you’re in the optical window, you have virtually unlimited bandwidth and unlicensed spectrum.”

In a similar manner to Edinburgh’s best and brightest PureLiFi, the technology requires line of sight to work, meaning until boffins can figure out how to make light turn corners or penetrate people’s pockets, it’s likely that light-based communication will augment rather than fully replace cellular and WiFi transmissions in the long term. 

In the shorter term, PureLiFi is working on a dongle-sized adapter for laptops that’ll let users connect to networks using smart LED bulbs as opposed to drawing on already-congested 2.4GHz WiFi. 

It’s thought that future phones and tablets will feature built-in LiFi sensors alongside cellular radios and WiFi antennas. 

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