LiFi gets IEEE standard

Light Communications

July 17, 2023

Yes, you read that right! LiFi, not WiFi, is a term coined by Harald Haas in 2011 for a wireless communication technology that uses light instead of radio frequencies to transmit data in a variety of applications. The world’s first LiFi system, the Li-1st, was launched in 2013 by a company founded by Haas, which came to be called pureLiFi afterwards. Ten years later, the technology gains a universal standard defined by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), IEEE 802.11bb.

The 802.11bb standard, an amendment to the WiFi specification, sets a significant milestone for the LiFi market, according to the Task Group that worked on the project, as it provides a globally recognised framework for deploying the technology. It was the result of efforts that gained momentum with the creation of this group in 2018, chaired by pureLiFi and supported by Fraunhofer HHI, two companies working in favour of LiFi development.

IEEE 802.11bb defines the physical layer specifications and system architectures for wireless communication using light waves and paves the way for interoperability of LiFi systems with the WiFi standard. Ratification of the standard was finalised in June 2023.

“The release of the IEEE 802.11bb standard is an important moment for the wireless communications industry. Through the activities of the 802.11bb Task Group, LiFi has attracted interest from some of the key players in this industry, from semiconductor companies to mobile phone manufacturers. We worked with these companies to create a standard that would give the industry what it needed to adopt LiFi at scale,” says Nikola Serafimovski, pureLiFi’s vice president of standardisation and chair of the 802.1bb Task Group.

pureLiFi, the company that pioneered the development of LiFi technology, is already offering the first devices compatible with the new standard, among them the recently launched Light Antenna ONE. The device can be integrated with current WiFi chipsets and simply appears to the system as if it were another WiFi band.

With the release of the IEEE 802.11bb standard, pureLiFi believes that LiFi is now ready as a complementary solution to radio frequency communication and to take its place in the wireless communication market, offering speed, security and reliability to users around the world.

Fraunhofer HHI, which works on the development of optical and mobile communication networks and systems and on video signal processing and coding, and which also served on the 802.1bb Task Group, has studied use cases for indoor and outdoor applications with early adopters and made relevant contributions to the standard. HHI offers all the building blocks for state-of-the-art LiFi systems, customises prototypes for specific applications and conducts field tests in real-world scenarios.

According to Dominic Schulz, development lead at Fraunhofer HHI, LiFi offers high-speed mobile connectivity in areas where radio frequency is limited, such as fixed wireless access, classrooms, medical and industrial environments. It complements or serves as an alternative to WiFi and 5G. It also integrates easily with existing infrastructures and operates in a unique optical spectrum that ensures more reliability and lower latency and jitter. It reduces risks of interference, for example from electromagnetic waves present in hospitals and aeroplane cabins, and from eavesdropping, and enables centimetre-accurate indoor navigation.

“With IEEE 802.11bb, LiFi offers a solution that fulfils mass market requirements such as low cost, low power consumption and high volumes. It is possible to fully reuse WiFi protocols using light as a medium. This will take the transfer, security and navigation capabilities of WiFi to a new level,” explains Schulz.

LiFi Features

The first feature of LiFi that catches the eye is that it can be up to 100 times faster than WiFi, but there are several others. For example, it is able to operate at higher bandwidth and in areas vulnerable to electromagnetic interference.

Of course, it has disadvantages, such as the inability to pass through walls, since light waves do not pass through opaque obstacles. As a consequence, it has range limitations. This difficulty can be overcome by sensors and light deflection, although it does impair transmission speed.

However, this characteristic of LiFi associated with opacity can also be a benefit when it comes to security. Unlike radio waves that are easily intercepted by passing through walls, the transit of light is interrupted by opaque objects, making LiFi significantly safer than other wireless technologies when used in isolated environments.

Another advantage of LiFi is precisely that it operates in the visible light spectrum, 10,000 times larger than the electromagnetic one used by WiFi technology, so it does not risk becoming saturated so soon. In addition, it can operate at a light level not perceptible by human eyes.