Apple, Samsung and a battle over Li-Fi

Within weeks of it becoming public knowledge that Apple had been testing the capabilities of Li-Fi – a technology being touted as faster and more secure than Wi-Fi – the man who invented it was contacted by a national research centre with strong links to Samsung.

FutureScot understands that Professor Harald Haas – who pioneered the emerging technology, which uses light waves to communicate data – has received interest from the world-renowned Etri (Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute) in South Korea, which signed a memorandum of understanding last year with Samsung to cooperate in the Internet of Things (IoT) field.

A source at Edinburgh University – where Professor Haas is based – said: “They actively raised an interest in Li-Fi. They asked questions about it.”

Apple and Samsung have a complex relationship; Apple has been Samsung’s biggest customer for components at the same time as taking the South Korean manufacturer to court over patent infringments.

The source confirmed the contact was made after Twitter user Chase Fromm discovered the words “LifiCapability” in Apple’s latest iOS firmware in January and said there had been much excitement at the university, where Professor Haas is honing the technology through a spin-off company, PureLifi .

The revelation about Apple has led to speculation it may ship future iPhones with Li-Fi capabilities, which could eventually supercede Wi-Fi as the standard means of data communication. The source said: “I reckon in five years we will see ubiquitous Lifi – Apple were the first sign.”

Li-Fi has demonstrated its superfast potential in trials, reportedly achieving speeds 100 times faster than Wi-Fi, which uses already crowded radio spectra to transmit data.

However, it faces a battle for supremacy with the vested interests of huge mobile phone corporations which have invested billions of pounds and dollars in Wi-Fi infrastructure.

It could conceivably take a manufacturer of devices with the power and reach of Apple or Samsung to change that, and it also would require a response from the lighting industry to embed the technology in compatible LED bulbs, which are themselves still relatively new but are predicted to have a 45% share of the lighting market by 2020.

Etri is a non-profit, government funded research centre, founded in Korea in 1976. In the 1980s it pioneered the use of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and in the 2000s developed 4G LTE Advanced, which became the foundation of mobile communications. It is currently working on smartcard and biometric authentications to replace key-based passwords.

FutureScot has contacted Etri for comment.