If Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is contemplating the use of Li-Fi in future iPhones, as many outlets reported this week, it most likely would need to incorporate it into a range of devices – and probably create an entire new ecosystem to support it.
Recent versions of iOS code have been found to contain references to Li-Fi, a networking protocol that uses light to transmit data. Beginning with iOS 9.1, the operating system's library cache file makes mention of "LiFiCapability" along with other hardware and software capability declarations. The change was spotted by Twitter user Chase Fromm and independently confirmed by AppleInsider.
Apple experiments with new technologies all the time, so it's not surprising to find new things in the firmware, Avi Greengart, Current Analysis research director of consumer platforms and devices, told FierceWirelessTech, adding that "a reference to Li-Fi in there is not a guarantee that Apple will actually implement it."
Of course, Apple previously has made early bets on connectivity, putting Ethernet jacks in the iMac and going Wi-Fi-only in Macbooks before other vendors, he notes. However, Li-Fi is not currently a commercial technology. "If Apple is planning to support Li-Fi in the next iPhone, it would have to simultaneously launch accompanying Li-Fi infrastructure (routers, for starters). This is not out of the realm of possibility, but it would certainly be bold," he said.
Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar said that given what appears to be lack of an ecosystem, "I think Apple would have to create it," adding that he could see Li-Fi in iPhones if Apple also puts it into its computers and AppleTV products. "I can see it being used in peer-to-peer communications for quick transfer of content between computers, tablets, iPhones, and Apple TV," he said, suggesting it could be a replacement for wired Thunderbolt technology.
Various universities around the world are studying Li-Fi as a complement to capacity-challenged Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Li-Fi uses light, which runs on a much higher frequency, instead of radio waves to transmit data.
Li-Fi, or light fidelity, was coined by pureLiFi co-founder and Chief Science Officer Harald Haas, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, and was promoted during a TED talk he gave back in 2011. The technology is based on visible light communication that provides full networking capabilities similar to Wi-Fi but with significantly greater spatial reuse of bandwidth.
Korean researchers use Li-Fi for medical testing
Oxford researchers use Li-Fi-like system to deliver 100 Gbps
Germany's Fraunhofer Institute prepares to show off Li-Fi hotspot at Electronica