by David Woodward, Head of Standards & Regulations Americas, Signify
LiFi, the technology where light is used to provide broadband connectivity in the most secure and stable way, is developing rapidly. Some of the larger lighting companies have already clocked more than 100 pilot projects around the world. Use cases include offices, the hospitality sector, government institutions, and education. But its use isn’t strictly earthbound, and companies are continuously developing new business models to accelerate the mainstream use of this groundbreaking technology.
One of the most exciting use cases is taking LiFi connectivity into the stratosphere. In October 2019, Signify and Latécoère, a French tier 1 partner that provides aerostructure and interconnection systems to major international aircraft manufacturers, announced their partnership to develop LiFi systems for commercial airplanes. The technology has the potential to transform the entertainment and communications services passengers will receive onboard aircraft. And trains and buses are set to follow.
“The use case for LiFi in airplanes is a really strong one,” says Mark Gunther, Leader, Aerospace & Transport for Trulifi by Signify. “While some airlines already provide travelers with a WiFi connection right now, only LiFi has the ability to provide people with the same high-quality and secure connectivity experience as they would have on the ground. Imagine a video call with your loved ones while flying at 30,000 feet.”
At first, LiFi will be used for the connection of the media players in the headrests. In the next phase, passengers will be able to connect their personal devices to onboard media and Internet, but also interact with each other.
A big advantage of LiFi is that its signal doesn’t interfere with any of the sensitive equipment on a plane and can therefore be used at full strength, while radio-based solutions are limited as they may cause interference. In addition, movements by an airplane don’t impact the LiFi signal, while this does impact radio-based connections and hence stability of the signal.
Another important benefit of installing LiFi systems in airplanes is that it would result in a significant reduction in cabling. Currently every individual inflight entertainment system is cabled. Combining the LiFi systems with fiber-optic solutions would reduce the cables, and thus the weight, of the aircraft. Less weight means less fuel—an important step in reducing the carbon footprint of flying. Also, it enables seating in cabins to be reconfigured quickly.
Passengers eager to experience the upgrade to LiFi on board may have to wait a little. The technology is only expected to debut toward Q1 of next year.