With the rise of cloud computing, school networks have become strained because of the number of devices trying to connect at once. When students use their Chromebook devices to browse the internet or share work with others, they are relying on a steady Wi-Fi connection. When too many students want to access the internet at the same time, the connection will often slow down or crash.
Most commonly, these issues occur because of an insufficient bandwidth connection that cannot process the number of network requests it is receiving, creating a bottleneck phenomenon. To counter this effect, many IT departments have had to allocate a large portion of their budgets to increasing their bandwidth connection.
Fortunately, a new wireless networking technology may reduce this problem. This invention, called Li-Fi, is capable of using modulated light to provide the additional bandwidth capacity necessary to allow a steady streaming signal for students to use their devices simultaneously without difficulty. Keep reading to learn more about Li-Fi and what it could mean for mobile technology in the classroom...
The Importance of Bandwidth
Bandwidth may be compared to the number of lanes on a highway. For example, a single lane road is capable of supporting a single car going at high speed. When too many cars want to drive down the same road, however, traffic builds up and all of the cars have to slow down.
On the other hand, when a highway has enough lanes to accommodate a larger number of cars, traffic can keep flowing at higher speeds. This is the same with bandwidth: An internet connection with a larger bandwidth can move a greater number of data requests much faster than a connection with lower bandwidth.
This means that in order to effectively integrate technology into the classroom, schools have had to increase their bandwidth to handle hundreds of data requests at once. Or, rather, schools have had to add more lanes to their metaphorical “highway” to account for record high levels of traffic.
Wi-Fi versus Li-Fi
Wi-Fi, the type of connection we are all familiar with, relies on radio waves to transmit information across a network. For this process to work, data sent from the Internet passes through a router via a wired Ethernet connection. The router then codes this data into radio signals that can be received by a computer’s built-in wireless transmitter. This connection supports two-way traffic, whereby information can be sent from the router to the computer and the other way around.
Li-Fi, on the other hand, uses a visible light communication (VLC) system to provide network connectivity. This system has two basic parts: a data-enabled LED bulb and a separate photodiode. Information is fed into this special LED bulb, which then embeds the data into its light current, which in turn travels at rapid speeds to the photodiode. The photodiode, connected to the computer via USB, then acts as an adapter by decoding the data from these light signals. Similar to Wi-Fi, this process is bidirectional, meaning that the special LED light also reads back signals from the photodiode to send to the internet. According to creator Harold Haas, “the communication link [associated with Li-Fi] behaves as seamlessly as do the radio signals of a Wi-Fi system.”
What Could this Invention Mean for Schools?
- Bandwidth and Information Processing Speed: Compared to Wi-Fi, Li-Fi has the potential to deliver unprecedented bandwidth and data density (about 1,000x the data density of Wi-Fi), which translates to faster internet connection and download speeds. For schools, this will reduce the amount of the budget spent on increasing bandwidth because Li-Fi is capable of handling a higher volume of data, and therefore also an increased number of devices. Unlike Wi-Fi, Li-Fi is also not affected by and does not interfere with other devices using radio frequency signals, such as mobile phones, microwaves, or other electronics.
- Data Security: Unlike Wi-Fi, the wireless network from Li-Fi will not pass through walls. Although this may be considered a downside, it is actually beneficial in environments pursuing data security measures. By cutting off the path of light, one able to contain the light in a defined area. This means that to keep student data secure, teachers simply have to close the doors and pull down the blinds.
- Signal Range: It is important to note that the light signals of these special LED bulbs have a shorter range than the radio frequency signals associated with Wi-Fi. As a result, the further away from a light source you are, the slower the internet speed will get. However, Li-Fi does not rely on line of sight because the photodiode can receive data from light reflections. Therefore to counteract this effect, any environment using Li-Fi would not only benefit from having good light sources but also reflective surfaces or walls.
- Low-Light Connectivity: For those of you concerned about losing internet connectivity when you turn off the lights, I wondered the same thing. Fortunately, the design of these special LED bulbs means they can be dimmed to the point where they appear off, even while they are still transmitting data. Consequently, students will still be able to access the internet even while the teacher is showing a PowerPoint presentation.
According to PureLifi, a technology company pioneering VLC systems, “installing Li-Fi alongside Wi-Fi provides additional bandwidth to reduce network congestion, enabling students to stream educational videos and download resources with seamless connectivity.” This suggests that instead of implementing Li-Fi as an alternative to Wi-Fi, it may first be used to provide a complementary function to current network solutions. Currently, a select few schools in Scotland and Germany are pilot testing Li-Fi. It will be interesting to monitor its progress in the edtech field, and observe firsthand where this innovative new technology will take us.
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