Does Li-Fi add a new dimension to the smart-city interoperability discussion? I would suspect that most reading this would agree that interoperability in smart cities is costly. In case you need to be convinced, here is some research on the subject. In looking at just one little tidbit from Machina Research it suggests that by 2025, cities could spend an extra $341 billion by adopting a fragmented versus a standardized approach to IoT (Internet of Things) solution deployment. On the other hand, a standards-based IoT environment could improve innovation and adoption of smart-city applications, resulting in a 27% increase in the number of connected devices within smart cities.

That all sounds impressive. But, I think we need to take a step back and first look at what is Li-Fi, before we can truly engage in a deep debate about smart cities. However, if you want to learn more, listen to The Peggy Smedley Show Harald Haas interview and that will help you truly understand Li-Fi.

Li-Fi is short for “light fidelity.” It’s a wireless communication technology that leverages visible light for the high-speed transmission of data between devices.  … What makes it so impressive is that it leverages the visible light spectrum, ultraviolet, and infrared radiation, to transmit data.

It’s very important to note that “Li-Fi” as a term first came onto the scene in 2011 when Harald Haas, who you can listen to on the podcast of The Peggy Smedley Show, gave his TED Talk, titled: Wireless Data From Every Light Bulb,” in Edinburgh, Scotland. I would be remiss if I didn’t note this TED Talk has been viewed online more than 2.4 million times. Haas is a professor of mobile communications at University of Edinburgh and a researcher.

He has a particular interest in optical wireless communications, hybrid optical wireless and radio frequency communications, spatial modulation, and interference coordination in wireless networks. He is also cofounder of PureLiFi, a company that’s pursuing the innovation and adoption of Li-Fi technology wherever there is light.

As for Li-Fi, it is similar to Wi-Fi, except of course for the fact that Wi-Fi relies on radio frequency to transmit data, while Li-Fi relies on the light emitted from LED lamps to transmit data. There are several advantages of using light waves instead of radio waves to transmit data.

Some of these include: higher bandwidth, faster transmission speeds, and the ability to work in areas that are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, like hospitals and inside airplanes.

Some other potential physical places that could benefit from Li-Fi include power plants, petrochemical factories, and other areas Wi-Fi can’t typically reach. Also, since light can be directed to wherever it needs to be, it’s easier to avoid interference issues with Li-Fi.

So where are we using Li-Fi in the real world? PureLiFi has already come to market with a couple of products that leverage Li-Fi technology and can be installed alongside existing lighting infrastructures. Basically, anywhere communications are necessary and light is available, Li-Fi is an option—from industrial settings to public places in smart cities. Li-Fi promises to offer a lot of new applications or enhance existing ones.

According to Global Market Insights, the Li-Fi market is expected to reach $75.5 billion by 2023.

Growing demand for spectrum, alongside limited availability of spectrum, will certainly help this growth along. Concerns about data security may also help push Li-Fi adoption in environments like hospitals. Global Market Insights’ analysis also suggests Li-Fi’s marketshare in intrinsically safe environments that can’t tolerate the use of Wi-Fi will experience a 88% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2016 and 2023.

In smart cities, the possibilities are really exciting. There have been tests, for instance, that explore the use of Li-Fi in disaster situations, and they have proved successful. Li-Fi also has potential applications in guiding sight-impaired passengers on public transit systems, measuring customer journey times through supermarket aisles, and offering ultrafast, secure Internet access for citizens.

I’m thinking about even more use cases, like enabling connectivity on military bases, enabling data transmission in transportation infrastructure like traffic lights, and even enabling vehicle-to-vehicle communication with Li-Fi-enabled headlights. This is where the IoT really shines.

Think of all the “things” that could benefit from Li-Fi connectivity. Li-Fi isn’t the solution for everything, of course. Li-Fi requires light, so enabling public Internet access through Li-Fi would require constant light sources, and that may not be plausible. Also, Li-Fi is limited by physical barriers, since light can’t penetrate walls.

Depending on the context, this last limitation could actually be considered a good thing. For instance, if you’re using Li-Fi to connect to the iInternet in your home or business, no one outside of an LED’s direct light could piggyback on your network.

At this point, you may now be also be asking: What’s the future of Li-Fi? Let’s be clear, I am not suggesting Li-Fi will replace Wi-Fi. At this point it appears that Li-Fi and Wi-Fi are complementary technologies, and Li-Fi will not replace Wi-Fi. Each technology has its strengths and its limitations. By working together, Li-Fi and Wi-Fi technologies will open doors for smart-city connectivity in more environments than Wi-Fi or Li-Fi alone. But like any technology we always have to keep an open mind. The skies the limit on what it can do and where it can go.

Li-Fi will help reduce the issues we’re expecting to run into around spectrum as more and more connected devices in cities transfer critical data that can enhance decisionmaking. Personally, I’m excited to see how Li-Fi enhances our cities and helps make them smarter and more connected. If we give innovators a way, they will innovate beyond our expectations every time.

However, the road forward isn’t without its speed bumps. What we have been talking about in smart citis is interoperability, and no matter how we connect—be it Li-Fi, Wi-Fi, cellular, or something else—we need to make sure our devices and systems can talk to each other.

If they don’t, we’re seriously limiting the ways data can inform and enhance our cities. We, as an industry, need to work together to implement standards that allow connected devices to communicate. If we do, the ecosystem will certainly flourish. Li-Fi is going to help grow the IoT, enhancing connectivity in our future cities, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Issues like interoperability and security need to be top of mind in every single IoT conversation.

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