PureLiFi gets £10M boost from Scottish government

July 13, 2022
Could this help bring on the lasers?

With Li-Fi long approaching the cusp of going mainstream but never quite getting there, it’s welcome news for vendors when they receive funding to help things keep going. To that end, pioneer pureLiFi has landed £10 million ($11.9 million) from the Scottish government.

The Edinburgh-based company said the infusion from the Scottish National Investment Bank “will enable pureLiFi to further develop new technologies while opening up additional markets in areas such as mobile phones, tablets, wearables, and other connected devices.”

The company did not elaborate on the technologies it will pursue with the backing, but presumably they will include the development of laser chips to replace the LEDs that pureLiFi has used.

Li-Fi, or light fidelity, typically modulates visible or nonvisible light waves from LEDs to transmit data. It is a light-based alternative to Wi-Fi, first developed by pureLiFi (then called pureVLC) a decade ago. Li-Fi works with a combination of transmitters and receivers in luminaires and gadgets such as phones, laptops, and tablets.

While pureLiFi and other vendors have built up a small customer base, they have yet to hit big numbers. Gadget makers have not generally embedded the technology. A standards battle is not helping.

Some Li-Fi pundits believe that uptake will accelerate when lasers replace LEDs, offering exponentially faster data rates. PureLiFi last October acknowledged to LEDs Magazine that lasers mark Li-Fi’s future. It has developed a laser-based antenna module for use inside phones and is eyeing the technology for luminaires.

On a related note, the company’s cofounder and chief scientific officer, Harald Haas — regarded as the “father of Li-Fi” — now also serves as an advisor to Kyocera SLD Laser. Santa Barbara, Calif.–based KSLD has demonstrated laser-based Li-Fi operating at 600 to 700 times the speed of commercial Li-Fi and 100 times faster than advanced Li-Fi demos. It’s working on miniaturizing the components.

Even without the speed of lasers, LED-based Li-Fi offers benefits in some instances when compared to Wi-Fi — it is sometimes faster and sometimes not.

It is more secure than Wi-Fi, something which has led to installments by the U.S. Army using both pureLiFi and Signify.

Li-Fi also avoids electromagnetic interference, which can make it more suitable than Wi-Fi or other radio-based technologies in environments such as hospitals and factory floors, where radio interference is an issue.

Li-Fi can also serve the practical role of relieving the crowded Wi-Fi spectrum, which often suffers from interference when one Wi-Fi network clashes with another. PureLiFi drew considerable attention to this aspect of Li-Fi in announcing the £10 million.

“Li-Fi is complementary to Wi-Fi technology, offering transformationally improved performance,” the company said. “Additionally, when Wi-Fi and Li-Fi work together the users across both technologies experience greatly improved connectivity, as Li-Fi also makes Wi-Fi better. The number of connected devices in the average home has more than doubled in the past two years. As more devices connect to struggling home Wi-Fi networks, bandwidth is split, interference increases, and response times slow for everyone.”

The emphasis on complementing Wi-Fi seemed to be a change of tone for pureLiFi, which in the past has drawn more attention to Li-Fi’s superiority compared to Wi-Fi. For instance, when it last announced financing — an $18 million Series B round in November — it noted that “Li-Fi can unleash faster, more reliable, and more secure wireless data communication.”

The Scottish National Investment Bank, founded in November 2020, is not a bank per se. It provides capital to businesses with “net zero” and innovative missions. One of its principles is “to invest where the private market is failing to invest,” it states on its website.

Privately held PureLiFi’s Series B funding round was led by Singapore’s state-owned investment banks Temasek, which also led a round in June 2016. PureLiFi raised four rounds of seed financing — two in 2012 and two in 2015.

Li-Fi’s long gestation period recently got a profile boost when networking stalwart Cisco began advocating for it.

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

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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.