The Mexican division of software company Sisoft claims to have developed technology that outperforms even the fastest broadband Internet connections by leaps and bounds—all using LED light bulbs. Leveraging the visible light spectrum rather than traditional radio spectrum, Li-Fi—also known as Visible Light Communications (VLC)—could enable wireless data speeds currently up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) or more.
That rate even makes the screaming fast Google Fiber network—currently only available in three American cities—look like a slowpoke at 1 Gbps. For more perspective, in 2013, South Korea boasted the world’s fastest Internet connection speeds with an average of 21.9 Megabits per second (Mbps) while the world average is only a crawl of 3.8 Mbps. Bell Labs also made the claim of a 10 Gbps connection slightly earlier this month using only a copper wire-based broadband connection.
Wireless networks traveling at the speed of light face their own challenges. Powered by LED bulbs flickering on and off in nanosecond intervals too fast for the human eye, these kind of light-reliant networks can’t pass through walls with the same ease as Wi-Fi. On the plus side, they’re expected to prove far more secure than the eminently hackable radio waves we rely on today. Considering that Li-Fi only exists in lab settings at the moment, its practical quirks remain to be seen.
Unfortunately, we’re not quite done fighting with our Wi-Fi routers yet. More than 15 years after its inception, the wireless Web still has plenty of room for improvement. Our current mode of Internet connectivity dates back to the late 1990s when the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) created the set of standards known as Wi-Fi. As more devices flicker on, Wi-Fi lanes grow more congested by the day. And thanks to a similar high-stakes crunch in the telecommunications world, Wi-Fi is also shouldering the burden of mobile offloading (that’s why, in 2014, your iPhone has such a prominent Wi-Fi toggle button).
Watch this 2011 TED Talk from University of Edinburgh Professor Harald Haas—widely regarded as the father of Li-Fi— for more on the dream of a light-based Web.