Researchers achieve speedy internet with LED lightbulbs

I just installed Wi-Fi in a new apartment. After paying for a costly modem, router and installation fee, I’m still stuck with a high monthly bill for slow internet speeds.

It makes Li-Fi — where light, instead of Wi-Fi radio signals, takes care of data transfer — sound like an elegant solution. According to Chinese news outletĀ Xinhua, a team of researchers in China report they have successfully created an LED lightbulb that can deliver data as fast as 150 megabits per second. That’s not exactly Google Fiber speeds, but it is faster than the U.S. average of 8.8 Mbps.

Li-Fi lightbulbs are equipped with a microchip that sends and receives signals by quickly flickering light, similar to how Wi-Fi works with radio signals. Up to four computers could connect to each lightbulb.

“Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an internet signal,” research team lead Chi Nan told Xinhua. “Turn off the light and there is no signal.”

The technology has been around for years now, though connectivity this fast is new. My colleague Stacey Higginbotham delved into Li-Fi in January, when she noted there are already companies like mLED commercializing similar technology.

The researchers told Xinhua that there is still work to be done before their 150 Mbps system is ready for consumers. Key components like the design of the chip and how they are manufactured still need to be developed.

But when they are, it could be an inexpensive option for getting online, as existing bulbs could be outfitted with Li-Fi kits. The researchers will showcase samples of the kits next month in Shanghai.

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