LiFi’s Got Talent Seminars: An Imagined Story in Engineering Society

By Keattisak Sripimanwat - Chair of the IEEE ComSoc Thailand Chapter

The 10th anniversary of the Thai telecom knowledge management with LED applications talk in order to celebrate the International Day of Light (IDL) 2018 in Thailand was jointly organized at the MoonMung ISAN exhibition, Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University, on Feb 22-24, 2018. Selected topics were continuously developed from the successful 2017 Thai ComSoc tours emphasizing visible light communication (VLC) and its migration to “Light Fidelity” or LiFi. That series was done again on the day of light (March 16), online and at a few other meetings throughout the year.

The session was started with LiFi viral clips. Popular trailers were shown, followed by observing the content of major LiFi publications. Again for this year, audiences were frequently reminded to re-consider four basic criteria during the talk, whether LiFi is: low cost LED or expensive and complex laser; fixed wireless communication or with mobility; dual lighting with data or communication solely; one way (simplex) or full duplex-optical communication.

Prior to unveiling LiFi talents, a collection of hot news and rumors were discussed. For instance, LiFi was chained to 3G mobile by posting a dongle tethering to a phone or a laptop. A top phone’s source code was decrypted finding LiFi inside. A number of news items were shown on its implementation at hospitals, schools, underground, trains, cabins, and even in warships. An active industry was also found in the marketing reports, which forecasted a potentially multi-billion dollar market in the next few years. Impressively, it seems that LiFi has already played important roles in our society.

After updating with fantastic information, audiences realized coincidently that the most basic LiFi is expected as “a WiFi’s counterpart: a man roaming under a normal LED bulb as a hotspot with high(er) speed Internet via light to and from his phone”.

Technically, samples of claimed LiFi are similar to the magical devices running well only on a few fingers but the rest of its body were powered by imagination as promoted. None of them satisfies “light fidelity” for being a counterpart with WiFi. Of course, independent or full review of those implemented cites has not been found.

Following with unpopular news, the first VLC R&D group founded on 2001 in Japan, was already ended. Also, a VLC director of the world class Korean mobile company who filed the highest number of related patent, has switched to other research areas since 2015. Moreover, significant investment in high speed personal wireless communication via LED light was not found in any major manufacturing country of consumer products. Up to the recent 5G era, none of the mobile industrial standards welcome mobility on lightwave communication. Not only that, amazing and expensive market reports have been queuing to be expired, meanwhile the real LiFi market is still on the ground. In fact, it has never been listed on the Hype Cycle for emerging technologies either.

Eventually, most audiences agreed that their expected LiFi (illumination simultaneously with gigabit data streaming connecting to multidirectional optical transceivers of a mobile device), could be commercialized only in the animation industry. In last year’s report, ‘A White Paper - Seminar: “LiFi’s True Story vs Fake News, IEEE GCN - Oct 2018’, LiFi “without” lighting purposes is however still possible where ultra smart room plugging with invisible laser communications and pointing million angle beams to and from super high-tech phone. But that might be only for James Bond in the SciFi movie with no matter of consumed time, cost, or complexity !

Later, LiFi has been appearing on arbitrary mutation from being a WiFi’s counterpart. Whatever KIT that could blink or detect light for whatever purpose, it could be named LiFi too. More doubt and complaint to the backstage of LiFi are then sparked as in public articles: “Li-Fi to replace Wi-Fi? Sounds Like Sci-Fi”; “New VLC Product: You Won’t Be Able to Buy It (Yet)”. Furthermore, the world’s top media seem to be fading after reporting previously without full verification: “LiFi: 100 Times Faster than WiFi”; “Forget WiFi: Meet the New LiFi Internet”; and “Wireless Data from Every Light Bulb”. From all the seminars, the two most frequent questions asked were: Without proving of its availability, how multi-awards and honors based on LiFi had been granted? If LiFi is successfully built in the future, how will everyone benefit, not just those who can afford it? One interesting answer was offered from an audience member: Because “LiFi performs very well in the movie then both social responsibility questions should be answered by James Bond!”

Finally, the rhetoric of this eyes-catching technology has been promoted impressively already for a long decade with encouragement to imagine a new high speed Internet via light bulbs as a counterpart of WiFi. In contrast, “misconception” has also been defended once people really asked for their imagined LiFi. A few past seminars were then ended with a discussion of IEEE ethics. This resulted in optimistic suggestions; however, at least LiFi is a very good value added technology that could prolong the saturation of the LED lighting industry, even not on LiFi itself. This field has obtained quite a high number of new engineering graduates and publications. In order to deliver talent effectively, the engineering society may just need more essential skill on (mass) science communication rather speaking paradoxically of “imagination vs misconception”.

All of the 2018 seminars concluded that experts from the faculty of social sciences, humanities, or phycology should be invited to participate in future technical development. Since our society has received a lesson from this long-time LiFi mesmerizing, engineering skill alone can not handle those side effects. Multidisciplinary teams should foster labeling scientific works with social responsibility and co-judge for fair and proper engineering talent toward real adoption, not just for the stage of a talent show.