Are Airlines Ready To Ditch Wi-Fi For Li-Fi On-Board Entertainment?


Li-Fi is the new buzzword that has everyone talking. With reported speeds up to 100 times faster than today's Wi-Fi standards – people can't get enough of this potential wireless technology that needs not much more than a LED bulb for fast and secure Internet and data sharing.

But although the technology is still three to four years away from practical use for consumers, tests are already underway for some of the biggest potentials for Li-Fi connectivity. Airlines and Submarines are looking at the technology as a way to deliver wireless communication, data, and entertainment on board not only because of its speed and better security, but also because sending data through visible light could potentially do away with a bulk of the weight needed to wired seats which limit the capacity of commercial carriers.

The now viral TED Talk from 2011 delivered by Prof. Harald Haas from University of Edinburgh first introduced the world to the potential of Visible Light Communications, now called Li-Fi. Recent tests show that developments in Li-Fi show that the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger than radio waves which routers use to send Wi-Fi signals.

Information from a LED bulb is recorded in pulses, much like information from an infrared TV remote control, however, the capacity of Li-Fi, according to Haas is one million bits per second. Unlike a remote control which can only carry 1,000 bps.

Aircrafts and submarines are also looking at the technology because, unlike regular Wi-Fi signals, Li-Fi does not rely on radio waves which could potentially interfere with the communications and security systems of the vessels.

Haas has revealed that “a major aircraft carrier” has been testing the potential of Li-Fi for in-flight entertainment systems using the overhead bulb already installed in most commercial airlines.

“The airlines are more interested because they save weight. These seats are usually hard-wired with cables. And that also limits their flexibility. The airlines want to be able to change the seat-spacing depending on what link they serve,” he said

The U.S. Navy is also testing the potential of Li-Fi systems to replace their current submarine communications because traditional radio waves travel poorly and slowly under water. According to reports, researchers from the University of California, San Diego are working to develop high-modulation-rate blue and green LEDs specifically for underwater optical communications for subs. 

Li-Fi's major drawback, however, is that it currently does not work outdoors under direct sunlight because daylight interferes with the signal. However, in enclosed spaces such as on airlines and submarines, Li-Fi could find its first potential boon in commercial use.

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