In the shadow of the 5G, the LiFi tries to break by leaning on the light -

At the CES in Las Vegas, the annual high mass of consumer electronics, difficult this year to miss the 5G, this new telecommunications standard which must, in the short term supplant the 4G, and allow communication rates much higher. But another revolution is also emerging, more discreet but equally promising: the LiFi for Light Fidelity. This technology could in the coming years compete with the WiFi network - or at least complement it usefully.

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Specifically, the LiFi relies on light - more precisely on the modulation of the blinking of LED bulbs - to encode messages (mail, video, etc.), and then restore them using a receiver. The process is not really new, since it was developed in 1881, by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the phone. But the arrival on the market of LED bulbs in the early 2000s has significantly improved and the first consumer solutions are now starting to emerge.

The company Oledcomm, already present last year at the CES - where she had presented a desk lamp, which allowed to connect to a LiFi network in a limited area (about a meter around the device) - thus unveils this year a new product. Its ceiling light, allows to create a LiFi network in a room of about thirty square meters, which can be connected simultaneously fifteen users.

Network security

The benefits of LiFi are numerous. It does not use radiofrequencies, many studies point to adverse health effects - hence its prohibition in French maternity. As it relies on light, which does not cross the walls, it is less likely to be hacked. Finally, and above all, it offers a much higher speed than WiFi, and could offer an essential complement to it while networks may be saturated with the proliferation of connected objects: we could count 80 billion in the world by 2025, according to an IDC study.

Although the market is still embryonic, several industries look closely at LiFi attracted by the argument of network security. The technology is also of interest to aeronautics: the LiFi could be integrated with passenger reading lights to offer connectivity in flight ... Announcements are expected at the next Paris Air Show.

Among the companies, still few, offering LiFi devices, many are French. Besides Oledcomm, we can mention Luciom (France) or Lucibel. "It's one of the rare technologies that was born in France, at the same time as in Japan and Scotland"explains Benjamin Azoulay, the boss of Oledcomm, a company founded in 2012, on the initiative of researchers at the University of Versailles who have been working on this technology since 2007. Abroad, PureLifi is also at the forefront of research on this technology. Preferring not to miss a turn that could be major, the giant Phillips has also launched into the competition just recently.

"The meaning of history"

"LiFi is the meaning of history", wants to believe Frederic Granotier, the leader of Lucibel. However, it should not be imposed in the next few years. Firstly because the technology is still not standardized: the work in progress of standard definition should take another 18 months. Then because the generalization of LiFi will be possible only when the terminals (smartphones, computers, tablets) have integrated a dedicated receiver in their components - for now it is necessary to connect a device to be able to communicate in LiFi. But the priority of manufacturers today is to adapt their products to 5G. The first LiFi compatible smartphones should not be released before ... three to five years.

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By then companies like Oledcomm hope to have taken a technological advance enough to dominate the sector. "We are lucky for the moment to be under the radar: the big players in the sector [les fabricants de terminaux] have other priorities. Our strategy is to develop products and know-how, so that when they wake up, they take a license from us instead of spending two or three years developing their own solutions. "says Azoulay. And the game is worth it: according to Market Research Future, the LiFi market could weigh as much as $ 51 billion by 2023.

Vincent Fagot

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