As the ‘Internet of Things’ promises to introduce millions more connected devices into our buildings in the coming years, we are seeing significant investment in new wireless connectivity technologies to meet the challenge.

Sanjaya Ranasinghe WiredScore

Sanjaya Ranasinghe is technical director at Wiredscore

One of them is, of course, 5G. However, there is another technology that promises to revolutionise how we access the internet in office buildings: li-fi. Developed in 2011 by Professor Harald Haas at the University of Edinburgh, li-fi uses the light from LED bulbs to transmit data, instead of using traditional radio waves.

Li-fi offers a number of advancements on existing connectivity technology, not least of which is increased speed. As the frequency of light is higher than that of radio waves used for wifi, the available bandwidth is much greater and so speeds of li-fi are up to 1,000 times faster. This is at least equal to the latest fibre technology, so customers can receive the full bandwidth available.

What’s more, due to the increased bandwidth of li-fi, significantly more devices can be connected at the same time within a li-fi bubble – the area of network access – than that of a typical wifi network, enabling li-fi to deliver the required capacity to an office packed full of connected devices.

Using light, network access can also be controlled more effectively. For example, the overhead lighting in an office can provide access to the guest network, while desk lamps can provide access to specific parts of a corporate network with access rights assigned on a desk-by-desk basis.

Lifi_Credit Sentavio-Shutterstock

Credit: Sentavio-Shutterstock

It may sound like next-generation technology, but li-fi isn’t light years away – pioneering tech firms have already developed systems ready for use in offices.

PureLi-fi’s Li-fi-XC system enables companies to install li-fi in existing lighting networks, for example, while Oledcomm’s MyLi-fi desk lamp can be used for desk-level li-fi bubbles.

While set to revolutionise the way we access the internet in offices, there won’t be a huge leap for landlords in terms of infrastructure requirements. LED lighting is already installed in most office space, of which a large proportion is powered and controlled by a networked solution, so the transition to li-fi for landlords will be relatively seamless.

However, that doesn’t mean landlords should rest on their laurels. With this new connectivity technology on the cusp of market adoption, there are several things landlords need to be thinking about.

Infrastructure requirements

For instance, before landlords can consider adopting li-fi, they must ensure that a building’s infrastructure provides the capability to support the speeds available. The foundation for any wireless network is fibre, so landlords need to ensure now that their buildings have the fibre backbone required to deliver an end-to-end high-speed connection from the connected device back through to the data centre.

We need lights and we need connectivity in commercial office space. Tomorrow’s innovative landlords will be the ones who optimise their buildings’ devices to drive greater efficiency and power utilisation. Furthermore, as more and more devices and systems are connected in the transition towards the smart building, the fewer things that you need to connect the better.

The rise in co-working has resulted in an increasing number of businesses that expect their internet connection to be delivered as they would for lighting or heating.

As landlords harness this opportunity to provide more and more services to occupiers, provision of better connectivity could provide an important differentiator – whether in the form of superior mobile coverage inside the building, 5G fixed wireless or li-fi.

There is no doubt that li-fi will revolutionise the way we access the internet in offices over the next 10 years. While no great infrastructural investment is required from landlords, thanks to li-fi utilising existing LED lighting systems, it is essential that landlords stay ahead of the trend to provide and enable the connectivity speeds and capacity that occupiers increasingly need and will soon demand.