O2 searches for lightbulb moment in connectivity challenge

O2 UK has unveiled an interesting new trial at its Slough HQ to deliver connectivity through Lifi-enabled lightbulbs.

The trial, which has initially been launched in the ‘Explore Room’ at the MNOs Slough headquarters, is being run alongside pureLiFi. Using the company’s Lifi-XC system the aim to deliver large amounts of data through the common household fixture, potentially providing a solution to the on-going challenge of indoor connectivity.

“At O2 we’re committed to building the best network possible for our customers, and a huge part of that is making sure we’re ahead of the pack in testing the latest technology,” said Derek McManus, O2’s COO. “Our Lifi trial shows how you can deliver high-speed connectivity to customers in new ways and is another example of how we’re future-proofing our network as we pave the way for 5G in the UK.”

While it does look like a typo, Lifi (light fidelity) is a wireless optical networking technology that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for data transmission. Lifi is designed to use LED light bulbs similar to those currently in use in many energy-conscious homes and offices. Those developing the technology claim Lifi can achieve significantly higher data speeds than wifi, though estimates vary quite widely.

The solution is perhaps one of the practical solutions to the ‘spectrum crunch’ issue which many industry commentators have predicted. Spectrum crunch refers to the potential lack of sufficient wireless frequency spectrum needed to support a growing number of consumer devices, though utilising the currently un-used light spectrum broadens the availability of spectrum, while developers also claim it is faster, safer and more energy efficient.

Although the technology is yet to be fully tested out in real world environments, there are a couple of very notable benefits. Firstly, it could solve the indoor connectivity problem (an issue which might be compounded as 5G’s frequency bands hit the market). Secondly, if the speeds are anywhere near the actual claims (some say 10x faster than wifi, some up to 10,000x) this would be very attractive. And finally, it is unlicensed spectrum.

Unlicensed spectrum presents issues for telcos when dealing with critical communications and workloads, but there is a significant advantage; it’s free, and the telcos love free. Both the visible light spectrum and the infrared spectrum are globally unlicensed which can be utilised to communicate freely, addressing some very interesting and complicated connectivity issues.

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