Are Lasers The Answer To Improving Current Wi-Fi Speeds?

Late last year, we reported on an effort to solve the logistical problem of burying fiber for high-speed networks by using lasers to transmit data across long distances. Now a group of researchers from the University of Edinburgh think that lasers might be the answer to improving current Wi-Fi speeds. They’re thinking smaller but faster, as a localized wireless solution rather than a citywide network. Wi-Fi? More Like “Why-Bother-Fi.” Current Wi-Fi technology uses portions of the radio broadcast spectrum to transmit data and the current Wi-Fi 802.11ad standard has the theoretical potential to deliver 7 Gbps. In practice, it doesn’t, of course. A 7-gig network would be seven times as fast as our country’s fastest current fiber networks. One technology already proven faster than Wi-Fi is Li-Fi. This technology uses rapidly-pulsing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to transmit data and offers the potential for 15 Gbps. Theoretically, Li-Fi networks could use the same LED light bulbs that are starting to replace traditional halogen and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in homes and automotive applications. While doing so wouldn’t be necessary, it’s a pretty cool use of technology, though it does make you wonder if the network would be working after you turn off the lights. Harald Haas, a member of the Ultra-Parallel Visible Light Communications Project, is also Chair of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh. Researchers at that school have already been working on Li-Fi technology for some time, and in recent experiments, they replaced LED Li-Fi transmitters with laser diodes. Lasers are more efficient than LEDs, and in a paper published in the academic journal “Optics Express,” Haas and his team claimed the laser transmitters enabled wireless data transmission rates of 100 Gbps. Whether using lasers or sheep-based networks, the U.K. is on top of wireless broadband. Implementation Won’t Be as Fast as Transmission Don’t go scrapping your current Wi-Fi network just yet, though. Haas notes that there are a few obstacles to implementing this technology: the first is the fact that radio-based Wi-Fi is already in widespread use, with new networks constantly being created. Many network providers are going to be hesitant to change over to abandon current technology after spending the money to put it in place. And money itself is a factor. LED lighting is more expensive than current halogen or CFL bulbs, but LED flashlights and even home lighting is already available at your nearest home improvement store. Not so for laser lighting. Haas points out that the headlights on the BMW I8 use this laser technology, but those headlights cost more than $10,000. However, LED headlights were unheard of once as well. Now, that cost and technology has trickled down to use on Subaru’s. It takes time, but the price of technology always falls. It’s Great, but Not a Reality Yet Here we are again, teasing you with another example of awesome future technology that you can’t have yet. Sorry about that, but we can at least offer to help you find a better, faster Internet plan than the one you currently have. [zipfinder] Photo Credit: Andrea Pacell/Flikr

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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