Although it’s still relatively early days and far from everyone agrees on its future, the attention for LiFi (also Li-Fi, short for Light Fidelity) is increasing. As reported previously in November 2017 the IEEE created a new study group to drive worldwide standardization work on light communication standards to advance the market, with Nikola Serafimovski of PureLiFi as its chair. In other words: LiFi standardization could be coming.
The field of visual light communication of course is broader (and not new), standardization isn’t a walk in the park and other standards are evolving as well. Moreover, there will be politics and it will take time.
Yet, what is for sure is that LiFi is being used for niche applications and that the support of large industrial groups, although not often openly, is growing in specific areas where LiFi makes absolute sense, especially in correlation with other communication methods.
Analysts still look too much as LiFi as a Wi-Fi killer and not enough as a clear complement and enabler in heterogeneous environments. Moreover, there are clear areas where the rapid growth of the LED market and other emerging standards (the new Power over Ethernet standard) are specifically interesting. Let’s, however, not go TOO far in the future and look at some LiFi use cases today and in a nearer future.
LiFi forecasts in perspective
With the impact of IoT and Industrial IoT growing and the number of connected devices and associated need for wireless data continually on the rise visual light communication (which encompasses LiFi), the IEEE says, is gaining ground through use cases that demonstrate its viability as a global wireless solution with initial applicability in EMI-challenged (electromagnetic interference) environments, such as hospitals, petrochemical plants, and airplanes but also in secure environments where RF is not sanctioned (of course because LiFi doesn’t use radio frequency or RF like Wi-Fi but visual light).
As LiFi technology matures and new solutions supporting its advancement are being announced, analysts keep looking at the evolutions , drivers and forecasted value of the global LiFi market and evolving LiFi use cases.
According to Energias Market Research (data released mid-February 2018) the worldwide Light Fidelity market is expected to reach over USD 80 Million in 2023. That’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 74.6 percent from 2017 to 2023 which of course is partially explained by the fact that, again, it is still relatively early days and there is a lot of work to do in several areas. Nevertheless, significant growth indeed.
The LiFi market and LiFi use cases
When speaking with industry insiders on when LiFi will be “mainstream” we typically get an answer in the range of roundabout 10 years with some rather thinking 15 years and others in the range of 5+ years.
Back to the LiFi market. Before summarizing the main drivers of the forecasts some findings of Energias Market Research for 2016 when the still very young LiFi market reached USD 1,638.9 Million. From a component perspective the LED segment was the largest while the location based service (LBS) segment was the largest from an application viewpoint.
The increasing application of location-based service is also cited as an important driver of the LiFi market and LiFi use cases in the years ahead. From an industry perspective the research cites the growing application of LiFi technology in automotive and transportation. The announcement doesn’t zoom in on spending in the EMI-challenged environment of airplanes but points out that in the automotive sector, LiFi use cases include the enablement of vehicular communication for applications such as safety messaging, traffic and congestion monitoring and general purpose internet access.
For the proponents of LiFi general purpose internet access and high-speed wireless data transmission with the inherent benefits of LiFi and, keeping into account its practical and commercial disadvantages for now, is the overall aim but at this point and for years to come it’s still mainly applied in niche markets and specific LiFi use cases.
End 2015 LiFi, which is sometimes called a 5G and Wi-Fi alternative but rather is a complement in an increasingly heterogeneous mobile environment, already proved to achieve speeds that were about 100 times higher than Wi-Fi networks in those days, although of course there are changes in Wi-Fi land too. The technology, leveraging visible light communication or VLC (specifically visible LED light) to transmit data, back then already achieved speeds up to 1 Gbps and up to 224 Gbps in a lab environment.
The need for high-speed wireless data: main LiFi use cases, market drivers and inhibitors
The press release about the Li-Fi market forecasts does mention those LiFi use cases the IEEE also cited in EMI-challenged environments and in secure environments where RF is not sanctioned, however, where it says that “Li-Fi technology offers various applications in aircraft cabins, RF restricted environments, ocean beds (underwater communication), operation theaters in hospitals and sensitive areas such as power plants (and, overall for intrinsically safe environments where indoor networking is needed)”.
One of the early movers in the usage of LiFi in airplanes is Airbus which hasn’t been waiting for any standardization and looks at both applications in plane cockpits and cabins, whereby (remember the line of sight and impossibility of light to go through walls and more which from a security perspective in airplanes is deemed a plus) we do need to point out that of course Wi-Fi is already increasingly largely present.
LiFi obviously offers ample opportunities for smart buildings, implementations in the smart factory, smart homes automation, specific Industry 4.0 applications, utilities, petrochemics, building management and room control, each with again several LiFi use cases.
Global Market Insights, which earlier predicted the LiFi market to be worth $75.5 billion by 2023 (check the report announcement in PDF), points to megatrends such as Industry 4.0 and significant growth prospects in the IoT market as presenting high profitability avenues and predicts the smart homes industry size will be propelled by increased connectivity demand and initiatives by major players in the R&D intensive LiFi market.
It’s certainly also worth pointing to end 2016 research from Navigant Research which expects the global market for LiFi to grow at a CAGR of roundabout 48 percent.
Here the retail segment (smart store) came out as the largest end-user of LiFi systems and is expected to remain the leader until at least 2020.
Navigant points to, among others, the growing usage of M2M-based digital signage and the potential of LiFi in the scope of enhancing the shopper’s customer experience. It is clear that marketers and retailers are clearly looking at the potential of LiFi in the scope of customer-oriented and marketing-related visual light communications and LiFi use cases in this and other scopes.
Navigant segments the main segments of LiFi use cases as follows: indoor networking, LBS, in-flight communication and entertainment, and underwater communications.
Among the inhibitors of the market, according to Energias, are data transmission at the line-of-sight and a lack of awareness about Light Fidelity which in this stage certainly is a factor, not just because it is still on the expensive side. And, of course, there is awareness and adoption but, again, most industry insiders look beyond 2023.
Among the LiFi market drivers, on top of the need for high-speed wireless data transmission and ever more connectivity are the mentioned growing usage in LBS, automotive and transportation applications, growing demand in specific sectors (healthcare, telecommunication, schools,…) and more inherent benefits, not in the least on the level of energy efficiency and low power consumption.
The press release from Energias also mentions the opportunity for solar panel manufacturers to develop solar panels that are self-sufficient by integrating Li-Fi into the panels to create a self-powered receiver.
Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Alexander Kirch – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.