Using light -- instead of radio waves -- to transmit data, may seem an idea ahead of its time. Ahmedabad-based Nav Wireless Technologies is the leading Asian player in this area
October 13 2022: The recently-ended Indian Mobile Congress helped focus attention on a promising communication technology that many in the industry consider is an idea ahead of its time – but they could just be wrong: it may already be here.
The Prime Minister, the Union IT Minister and Industries Minister, all made the time to visit the stand of Ahmedabad-based Nav Wireless Technologies, the leading Indian and Asian player, working in the fast-emerging field of Li-Fi or Light Fidelity. This seems to be a name cannily tailored to place it in competition with Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) which is the established way today for lay users and enterprises alike, to wirelessly exchange data, especially over the Internet.
To quote Wikipedia, LiFi is a wireless communication technology which utilizes light to transmit data and position between devices. In technical terms, it is a light communication system that is capable of transmitting data at high speeds over the entire spectrum -- visible light, ultraviolet, and infrared. Right now, LED lamps are being used for the transmission of visible light. This could change as science evolves. The technology is similar to Wi-Fi, except that one uses light waves, the other uses radio waves.
There are some obvious advantages: WiFi gives rise to some electromagnetic interference, which might affect sensitive equipment – like the navigation system on aircraft or CT Scanners, MRO scanners and critical care equipment in hospitals. That is why we are asked to keep our mobile phones switched off during flights and in some hospital areas like ICUs. Substitute radio waves with light waves and this particular problem vanishes.
Because it can travel at the speed of light, LiFi is potentially capable of much higher data rates than what is currently achievable by WiFi systems – 10 times faster has already been achieved. And the infrastructure required is not complex: it can use existing LED light fixtures and electricity lines with small additions.
Early use cases in India
Urban as well as rural reaches in its home state Gujarat have been early beneficiaries -- and pioneering users – of this cutting-edge technology:
-In August 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic,Nav Wireless installed LiFi communication facilities in three government hospitals – the Civil Hospital (Ahmedabad), Surat Municipal Institute of Medical Education & Research (SMIMER) (Surat) and Gujarat Medical Education & Research Society (GMERS) Hospital, (Vadodara). The LiFi-based Centralised Patient Monitoring System at COVID-19 wards without any electromagnetic interference, ensured the safety of patients, doctors and the paramedical teams operating critical care equipment. It was a useful test of the technology in such sensitive environments
-In February 2021, Nav Wireless set up a LiFi technology-based optical wireless communication system at Akrund and Navanagar villages in Dhansura tehsil, Aravalli district. In just two days, the company deployed 10 gigabits per second (GBPS) LiFi lines to bridge the 1.5 kms between the two villages. Schools, hospitals, post offices, and other government offices received this faster and safer internet connection.
Last month, Nav Wireless announced that it has brought LiFi to students in Ladakh – working with the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and its charismatic founder Sonam Wangchuk. The terrain in the area has posed a challenge for many schools and delayed the laying of conventional fibre optic data lines. LiFi’s wireless technology provided an elegant solution.
With decades of investment and vast swathes of infrastructure in place the world over, WiFi is not going away any time soon. But as LiFi proves itself in use cases like these, where it provides a useful edge, light waves may play a useful complementary role with radio waves in providing the data networks of the future.
Suggests Hardik Soni, Nav Wireless Technologies founder and Chief Technology Officer: “This Made In India technology can give India an edge over the existing technologies adopted by the developed nations.”
LiFi and 5G: Made for each other?
It might also emerge that LiFi and that other much-talked technology, 5G, may see common synergies:
Since 2019, leaders in wireless communication and lighting respectively, Vodafone Germany and Signify (a Philips company) have been quietly working together to explore and develop ways in which LiFi technology in local networks can be used in conjunction with 5G.
When that happens, India may be well poised to leverage this ‘made for each other’ combo: she has a significant head start in both technologies. ANAND PARTHASARATHY
( This story has appeared in SwarajyaMag)