RESEARCHERS from the University of Edinburgh have developed a new kind of wireless internet which they believe could get the whole world online.
Professor Harald Haas of the university has unveiled a "pioneeering" form of Li-Fi wireless communication that uses solar panels and beams of light rather than radio waves to transmit internet data and other information.
Li-Fi technology is a term coined Professor Haas to describe the use of ordinary LED room lights to transmit data around the house without interference.
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Now the professor of mobile communications has unveiled a new take on Li-Fi using solar panels to transmit data which the University of Edinburgh's research an innovation wing says will bring "significant and profound commercial and social benefits to millions of people across the world".
Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI) says that the technology can be taken advantage of for little more than the cost of a solar-panel and an LED light.
"This will have impact particularly for populations in rural communities and the developing world that do not have existing infrastructures for electric power, the internet and Wi-Fi access," said ERI.
The University of Edinburgh's Li-Fi research and development centre led by Prof Haas demonstrated how Li-Fi can be used with solar cells to receive data, providing the prospect that solar panels can be used to transmit information, at this year's TED Global London, a conference devoted to innovation.
The prototype used in the demonstration was built in a collaborative partnership between the University of Edinburgh’s ground-breaking Li-Fi R&D Centre and pureLiFi Ltd, a University of Edinburgh spin-out company, acknowledged as pioneers of using the beams of light instead of radio frequencies to enable wireless data communication.
It is estimated there are 4.3 billion people without access to the internet and Prof Haas believes any extension of its use can only work if it is "almost energy neutral". With little energy infrastructure in developing countries to support traditional broadband and Wi-Fi, solar energy can bring "transformational change" to this situation, he says.
He said: "I demonstrated for the first time... Li-Fi, or Light Fidelity. Li-Fi uses off-the-shelf LEDs to transmit data incredibly fast, and also in a safe and secure manner. Data is transported by the light, encoded in subtle changes of the brightness.
"What's really important here is that a solar cell has become a receiver for high-speed wireless signals encoded in light, while it maintains its primary function as an energy-harvesting device," he said. "That's why it is possible to use existing solar cells on the roof of a hut to act as a broadband receiver from a laser station on a close by hill, or indeed, lamp post.
"It's very much a lab demonstration, a prototype. But my team and I are confident that we can take this to market within the next two to three years. And we hope we will be able to contribute to closing the digital divide, and also contribute to connecting all these billions of devices to the internet.
"And all of this without causing a massive explosion of energy consumption -- because of the solar cells, quite the opposite."
ERI, the commercialisation arm of the University of Edinburgh, is now looking for industrial partners to work with the University’s Li-Fi R&D Centre to develop the technology for commercial use.
According to a report last year from research outfit Markets & Markets, the total value of sales in LiFi and the“visible light communication” industry is expected to be worth almost £5.8bn by 2020.