O2 kicks off LiFi trial in U.K.

The trial uses LED lights to send large amounts of data. (O2)

European operator O2 kicked off a trial that involves sending large amounts of data using LiFi, which uses light instead of RF to communicate.

The trial at O2’s headquarters in Slough, U.K., is part of a partnership with pureLiFi, the startup that was hatched out of the University of Edinburgh, where researchers have been conducting work on LiFi communications since 2008. O2 said the move is the latest in a series of O2 network trials as it paves the way for its 5G launch in the U.K.

As part of the trial, O2 installed pureLiFi’s LiFi-XC system, comprising nine LiFi-enabled LED light bulbs, in a room at its Slough headquarters. The system enables data to be transmitted from a LED light bulb and back at high speeds through adjustments in the bulb’s brightness, resulting in a high-speed, bidirectional communication of data.

O2 says the LiFi system has the potential to serve as a "serious contender" to Wi-Fi; however, LiFi's developers are trying to enable safer, more reliable and secure wireless data communication than Wi-Fi. They say LiFi could also reduce infrastructure complexity and energy consumption.

“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 chief operations officer, in a prepared statement. “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 U.K.”

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Professor Harald Haas, co-founder and chief scientific officer of pureLiFi and a professor of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh, was recognized as the “father of LiFi” after introducing the technology to the world at a TED Global talk in 2011, where he demonstrated light fidelity for the first time and coined the term LiFi. He co-founded pureLiFi, which launched its first LiFi dongle—LiFi-X—in 2016 and integrated LiFi luminaire.

Because LiFi uses light rather than radio frequencies, it can provide wireless connectivity in areas that Wi-Fi cannot, such as power plants, petrochemical facilities and hospitals, according to LiFi proponents.

Verizon participated in an event last year named Operation Convergent Response where pureLiFi demonstrated its LiFi technology in a subway disaster scenario. LiFi was used to maintain real-time, bidirectional communications, allowing the emergency services to maintain connectivity during a response. Nokia and Aegex Technologies also participated.