THE Scottish company behind a new ultrafast wireless technology that uses LED lightbulbs to connect to the internet says it is only a matter of time before its chip is integrated into every device.

University of Edinburgh spin-out pureLiFi has spent the last year miniaturising its ‘LiFi’ – light fidelity – technology and is now working with companies around the world to integrate its optical chip into devices ranging from aircraft to smartphones. More than 200 projects in at least 20 countries have deployed the technology.

“We’ve taken LiFi systems from the size of a filing cabinet to smaller than the size of a 5p coin,” explained pureLiFi non-executive director Glenn Collinson. “We’ve increased data speeds by more than 1,000 times to one gigabit per second. And we have more than 30 patents filed or granted.”

“We have worked with a host of partners across the mobile and lighting ecosystems, including telecoms operators such as O2 Telefonica and Liberty Global, network infrastructure vendors like Cisco, as well as a number of device manufacturers looking to integrate LiFi technology and components.”

The company, which raised $18m last year to take its technology mainstream, is also working with partners including French lighting manufacturer Lucibel and Indian IT consultancy Wipro, who are developing LiFi-enabled lighting for a range of applications.

Using off-the-shelf components from light emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs, pureLiFi creates a very fast blink rate—also known as modulation—that is undetectable to the human eye. This equates to one million on-off cycles per second versus the 100 cycles per second of a standard TV or computer monitor. LiFi reaches extremely fast speeds by harnessing this modulation rate, which can be used to transmit 1,000 times more data than the entire radio wave spectrum used today to deliver wireless data including WiFi and 5G.

Prototype products already developed by pureLiFi and its partners include mobile devices embedded with a LiFi optical module—or Light Antenna—to deliver gigabit download speeds – more than 1,000 megabits per second – against current UK average download speeds of less than 50 megabits per second.

“We also know that LiFi is capable of tens of gigabits per second,” Mr Collinson added. “Our chief scientific officer and co-founder Professor Harald Haas has demonstrated 13 gigabits per second with off-the-shelf LED components on the lab bench. It is only a matter of time before we are able to miniaturise and integrate this technology into every device and every light.”

Mr Collinson said it was important to note that LiFi would complement rather replace WiFi and other networks.

“LiFi will not replace WiFi, just as WiFi hasn’t replaced cellular and 4G hasn’t replaced 3G,” he explained. “All these communications technologies exist alongside each other. Each new communications technology extends and enhances the technology that came before it.

“To put this in practical terms, future smartphones and laptops will have these multiple connectivity methods built-in, giving users the ability to seamlessly switch amongst LiFi, WiFi and 5G to take advantage of the best signal available at the time. The devices could even combine signals from, for example, LiFi and WiFi for the greatest possible speed and bandwidth.”

The company hopes its technology will build on the global legacy left by Scots engineer and scientist Alexander Graham Bell, who is credited with inventing the telephone in 1876.

“We’re planning for pureLiFi to continue as the world leader in LiFi components, growing the company in line with the market,” Mr Collinson said. “Since Bell and before, Scotland and Scots have been leaders in communication. Thanks to pioneering research by pureLiFi co-founder Dr Harald Haas and the continued work at the University of Edinburgh’s LiFi Research and Development Centre—and of course industry leader pureLiFi—Scotland leads the world in LiFi.”

Known as the ‘father of LiFi’ – Harald Haas is a German Professor of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh and coined the term LiFi.

Mr Collinson himself is a pioneer of Bluetooth, wireless technology for exchanging data over short distances that is used today in more than 10 billion devices. Cambridge Silicon Radio, the business he co-founded in 1998, was acquired by San Diego-based semiconductor giant Qualcomm for $2.5 billion in 2014.