A University spin-out company is changing the way we access the Internet with the world's first "LiFi" dongle

Steve Vance
Edinburgh-based PureLiFi is recognised as the leader in '‘LiFi’ – the use of light based communications to transmit data. (Source: PureLifi)

Imagine if every light bulb in the world could transmit data at ultrafast speeds? The global bandwidth shortage would be wiped out overnight as street lights and billions of other light sources in homes, businesses, devices and appliances were mobilised as wireless communication devices – without the need to build countless radio masts.

This ‘what if’ scenario isn’t fantasy, but is possible today using the technology and products of PureLiFi, a light communications company formed in 2012 as a spin-out from The University of Edinburgh.

“The radio spectrum is the traditional way of transmitting data, but it is limited,” explains PureLiFi founder Harald Haas, who has been developing this technology for more than ten years and is known as the ‘father of LiFi’.

“We don’t have enough capacity on the radio spectrum. What light provides is 1,000 times more capacity than radio. This additional capacity comes for free, as there is no regulation on the visible light spectrum for wireless data communication. To enable future economies to grow, we need an additional wireless data transmission lifeline, and light provides this.”

PureLiFi harnesses the very high flicker rate of LED light bulbs – which can achieve one billion on-off cycles per second versus the 100 cycles per second of a standard TV or computer monitor – to transmit data digitally.

World leader

PureLiFi is recognised as the leader in '‘LiFi’ – the use of light based communications to transmit data.The company, which employs 17 people and is based at the Edinburgh Technology Transfer Centre, recently launched the world’s first mobile LiFi dongle. Called LiFi-X, this is a data storage device the size of a credit card that allows users to connect to the Internet when they walk under an LED light source.

This represents a key step towards mass-market adoption and helped secure Series B financing from Singaporean investment company Temasek. PureLiFi has now raised over $12m to date.

“We’ve had strong support from Singaporean investor Temasek and we now have funding to grow the business significantly over the next couple of years,” Haas says. “It will be a steep uphill journey, but we’re now on the way to leveraging a good fraction of the $100bn LiFi market opportunity forecasted by 2024.”

Professor Harald Haas, co-founder and chief scientific officer, PureLiFi:

There are also very good skills here in Scotland, there are many universities and in the photonics space, the skills being developed here at The University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum are the best in the UK."

Growth environment

In 2013, The University of Edinburgh set up the Li-Fi Research & Development Centre to lead the global development of Li-Fi technology.

“The University of Edinburgh has been hugely supportive – they see the benefit of the technology we’ve brought to Edinburgh,” Haas says. “They have also provided funding through local mechanisms like Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept funding, and that has given me the freedom to develop novel and different ideas.”

“Scotland also has a strong angel investor base, to help small businesses develop concepts into commercial products,” Haas adds. 

Edinburgh’s award-winning lifestyle is another key benefit.

“The quality of life was an important factor for my family when we came to live here,” he adds. “We enjoy the schools and the outdoor activities. It’s very unique that within 20 minutes you can enjoy being out of reach of anyone.”

Global ambition

Since 2013, PureLiFi has recorded year-on-year revenue increases of over 300 per cent and has secured international partnerships to develop new LiFi-enabled products and services with businesses including Cisco, and Lucibel.

“We want to grow PureLiFi into a large, multiple hundred million dollar company in a relatively short time,” Haas says. “Because once we turn any LED light bulb into a LiFi light bulb, many new applications can run on that device.”

“In the future, the LiFi function will be integrated into any smart phone or smart device. It will be in every home appliance, allowing them to connect to the Internet as part of the new ‘Internet-of-Things’. LiFi will be in every street lamp, in every car headlight, in every aircraft and in every public building."

"Companies will be able to develop new applications around that technology, and this will allow us to develop a new LiFi ecosystem in this region that will provide great commercial and economic benefits for this country.”



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