Tablet maker embeds Li-Fi

Nov. 3, 2020
Finally, a Li-Fi device without a dongle, as Taiwan’s Getac builds pureLiFi into a ruggedized unit. It’s one small specialty example, but a breakthrough. Meanwhile, have dongles even been up to the task?

In what is believed to be the first computer or gadget maker to embed Li-Fi in a commercial product, Taiwan’s Getac Technology Corp. said it is offering a tablet with built-in Li-Fi capability. The endorsement came with a bite, however, as Getac criticized today’s dongle-reliant Li-Fi as physically unreliable in many settings.

The Taipei City-based maker of electronics and ruggedized computers said from its Telford, England office that it is offering its UX10 rugged tablet with Li-Fi from Edinburgh, Scotland-based pureLiFi.

It marks Getac’s first firm product commitment to the pureLiFi technology since the two companies said a year ago that they had begun evaluating the possibility of putting Li-Fi transceivers inside Getac equipment.

Getac first began offering a non-Li-Fi UX10 tablet in February 2019, positioning it for use in hazardous environments, and emphasizing its potential in the oil and gas industry. At the time it hailed the tablet’s wide array of communications capabilities, which included Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 4G LTE — all of which use the radio spectrum.

It has now added Li-Fi, which uses the light spectrum to transmit data by modulating the signals from LED sources.

Li-Fi is a long-gestating technology. Its supporters have hailed it as a more secure technology than Wi-Fi, because any intruder would need a direct line of sight to luminaires or wherever the transmitter happens to reside. Backers also say that it is not susceptible to the interference and slowdowns that can afflict Wi-Fi signals when they clash with other Wi-Fi and radio signals. As light rather than radio, Li-Fi can also be used in places like hospitals and factory floors where radio signals would interfere with other operations.

At the least, Li-Fi can play a critical role in offloading overcrowded Wi-Fi space, because it potentially opens up a vast amount of spectrum — on the order of a thousand-fold increase.

Li-Fi’s adoption has been hindered, however, by gadget makers’ general unwillingness so far to embed it in their devices, the way they have with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Although Li-Fi vendors like pureLiFi have miniaturized the electronics such that they could be embedded, factors such as cost and a lack of a standard are believed to be in the way.

Deployments of Li-Fi to date have entailed attaching Li-Fi-equipped “dongles” — USB sticks — to devices.

In announcing Li-Fi onboard the UX10 tablet, Getac took a swipe at the reliability of dongles.

“Previously, users wishing to capitalize on the benefits of Li-Fi technology had to rely on a USB dongle plugged into the side of their device,” the company said. “This approach is highly vulnerable to even the slightest knock or drop, making it unviable in many working environments, such as those found in the defense, public safety, automotive, energy, and manufacturing sectors.”

The assertion of vulnerability comes from the perspective of a vendor that sells into physically rigorous environments such as defense, police settings, and heavy industry. LEDs Magazine sent pureLiFi an email asking whether normal knocks and pings should be of concern to Li-Fi dongle users in normal office settings. We had not heard back by the time this story posted.

Curiously, pureLiFi did not jointly announce the tablet development with Getac. Unlike a year ago when the two companies issued a joint press release, this time they made separate announcements. The pureLiFi announcement made no mention of unreliable dongles, but it included a link to Getac’s announcement.

Getac is a roughly $1 billion subsidiary of Taiwan’s $40B MiTAC-Synnex Business Group.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]m).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.