Could LiFi be the answer to 5G’s indoor woes?


A new solution from pureLiFi is preparing to deliver 5G connectivity inside the home, without degrading the signal quality

The concept of using visible light to deliver data between devices has been around for many years now, through paths to commercialisation have been slow to materialise.

However, at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), Scotland-based LiFi specialist pureLiFi had a number of new solutions on show demonstrating the technology’s rapidly growing maturity. These included SkyLite, a whole-room access point that can cover an entire 50m2 room with high speed, low latency connectivity, and the LiFi Cube, a plug-and-play LiFi hotspot, ideal for dedicated use cases within a home or enterprise.

While these new solutions represent a technology growing increasingly versatile, pureLiFi CEO Alistair Banham made clear that LiFi would not be replacing WiFi any time soon.

“It’s not about displacing WiFi for us, it’s about being additive and complementary,” Banham told Total Telecom at this year’s MWC, noting that one of the technology’s key benefits is the avoidance of interference with radio waves.

“The way we see LiFi improving the quality of service is by covering high bandwidth download areas. For example, putting a hotspot over your TV or home computer, allowing these data hungry activities like streaming or gaming to be connected over light, instead of potentially degrading the quality of the WiFi network for all users in the building.”

But perhaps the most interesting new solution the company had on offer is the LINXC Bridge™, a product being developed in partnership with wireless power company Solace Power to help tackle the challenge of indoor 5G connectivity.

A common issue with 5G, particularly as we approach higher band frequencies such as mmWave, is that it suffers from significant signal degradation as it passes through walls and windows in homes and offices.

As its name suggests, the LINXC Bridge aims to overcome this problem by using LiFI, the signal of which is unaffected by passing through glass, to transfer the 5G signal from the outside to the inside of the building without signal attenuation.

The solution itself comprises two boxes, one attached to the inside of a window, the other to the outside. The outside box receives the 5G signal via an integrated 5G modem and converts it into light, which is then delivered through the glass to the inside box. Here, the signal is converted back into an electronic signal, which is then delivered to the home’s Wi-Fi or Li-Fi router. Future iterations could even have the router integrated into the internal box itself, removing the need for additional consumer premise equipment.

The device is powered using Solace’s integrated power solution that similarly delivers power wirelessly through the windowpane, reducing the need for any external power source.

A live demonstration of the LINXC Bridge in action at the show was delivering speeds of 1Gbps while connected to the 5G network, far higher than the 5G speeds typically recorded in-building.

“The average from our research suggests that customers are lucky if they can get 200–300Mbps in their home when connected to sub-6Ghz 5G – which, by the way, is also congested as more people make use of the network,” Banham explained. “We’re offering the operators the chance to deliver customers the same 5G service inside the home that they can get outside home. That’s really exciting.”

With around 80% of mobile data traffic generated indoors, the challenge of indoor 5G is one that is only going to increase in years to come. While LiFi products like the LINXC Bridge are still in their relative infancy, they could offer mobile operators a scalable and relatively hassle-free answer to this ever-growing pain point.

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