Kill Your Router: The Internet Can Come From Anywhere

Everyone needs the Internet, and as our data requirements explode, it’s putting a strain on broadband networks. Luckily, scientists can make wireless signals come from your TV and your lightbulb.


Internet traffic is booming, and something has got to give. Cisco reported
this June that global IP traffic increased eightfold during the last
five years, and is expected to jump by a factor of four, as we reach the
rather ominously named “zettabyte threshold” by 2015. With the
proliferation of millions of networked devices, and the popularity of
Internet video, none of this data demand is expected to slacken.

Very few of those devices are going to require a cable. But Wi-Fi is only one (rather limited) option of getting Internet signals through the air to you. In the future, the Internet might come from the “white space” in your television spectrum, unused satellite signals, or the LED office lights overhead. Perhaps all of them. For the immediate future, your new lightbulb is a leading contender.

A German physicist has come up with a wireless Internet solution to send data through an LED lightbulb fluctuating in intensity faster than the human eye can detect. The invention, dubbed D-Light, can send data faster than 10 megabits per second–faster than the average broadband connection–simply by altering the frequency of the ambient light in the room. It has new applications in hospitals, airplanes, military, and even underwater.

Similar technology has already landed at some U.S. offices. Mohsen Kavehrad, a Penn State electrical engineering professor, says Internet speeds up to 10 Mbps are not a problem using existing infrastructure such as electric power lines. He also noted by email that far faster speeds, at least several hundred megabytes per second, have been achieved in laboratories around the world and could hit the market within several years.

To start easing the load on broadband, the Federal Communications Commission is already considering opening up the wireless spectrum from televisions to mobile devices and even satellites. One of its core strategies is a “flexible use” policy for multiple dynamic users to sop up spare bandwidth as it becomes available. But with spare valuable television “white space” already handed out to unregistered wireless devices, and the technical challenge of throwing open the spectrum to more users still unresolved, traffic jams may be looming. So, for now, turning on the Internet with your light switch just might be a bright idea.

[Image: Flickr user *saxon*]


Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.


About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)