Wireless networks crafted from rays of infrared light could soon allow you to connect to the internet 100 times faster than current systems.
Researchers have devised a new method that relies on central 'light antennas' to beam rays of different wavelengths to wireless devices - meaning networks won't get jammed by several competing devices.
A light-based system, also known as 'Li-Fi,' could make wireless networks much more secure, and researchers now say it could hit the stores in just five years.
The new system developed by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology would also have a huge capacity, of more than 40 Gbit/s per ray.
It would rely on direct rays of light from an optical fiber, and as it has no moving parts, it would be a maintenance free system that requires no power, the researchers explain.
Several light antennas could be set up in a given area, each equipped with a pair of gratings that beam light rays at different wavelengths and angles.
So, if you're walking around while using a smartphone or tablet and move out of the direct beam, another will take its place.
The direction of the ray of light can also be changed by adjusting the wavelength, according to the researchers.
The light-based network can track the precise location of each wireless device based on its radio signal.
And, to add more devices, you'd just have to assign a different wavelength from the same antenna.
This means devices would not have to share capacity - allowing for much faster connection, and eliminating interference from neighbouring networks.
While current Wi-Fi systems rely on radio signals with a frequency of 2.5 or 5 gigahertz, the new network would use infrared light with wavelengths of 1500 nanometers or more.
According to the researchers, this light can achieve much higher frequencies - up to 200 terahertz - for much greater capacity.
At a distance of 2.5 meters, researcher Joanne Oh achieved a speed of 42.8 Gbit/s.
The team compares this with the average connection speed in the Netherlands, which is two thousand times less (17.6 Mbit/s).
And, the best systems available today can only achieve a total of 300 Mbit/s, roughly a hundred times less than the speed of the Eindhoven network.
So far, the researchers have only used the light rays to download, and continue using radio signals for uploading as it typically requires far less capacity.
It could be five years before the system hits the shelves, according to professor of broadband communication technology Ton Koonen.
But, he suspects the first devices to use it will be consumer products, including video monitors, laptops, and tablets.
A FASTER, MORE SECURE WI-FI
Lab tests have shown that Li-Fi can hit speeds 100 times faster than current Wi-Fi systems.
Speed is not the only advantage of Li-Fi.
The system uses visible light communication between 400 and 800 terahertz to transmit messages in binary code.
Visible light cannot pass through walls, making Li-Fi a much more secure system, and less susceptible to interference.
While the system seems promising, it won't likely replace Wi-Fi entirely, at least not anytime soon.
Instead, researchers are now looking to retrofit devices with Li-Fi to use the two wireless systems together to optimize speed and security.