Is There an Alternative to 5G?

19.07.2020 - Veronica Tarozzi

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Italian, German

Is There an Alternative to 5G?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (Image by United Nation University)

We have recently met with great pleasure Gunter Pauli, economist, entrepreneur and successful author, former professor at the Polytechnic of Turin with the task of providing the cultural basis of the systemic design approach, known above all for being the creator and founder of the Blue Economy: an economy that draws inspiration from nature through the study and imitation of the characteristics and behaviors of living species to improve and innovate production techniques.

Blue like the oceans and the sky, but also like the earth seen from space, as Pauli says, which identifies an economy model based on the sustainability of the biosphere as a whole. As noted by Zeri, Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives, an international network of scientists, economists and scholars founded by him in 1994 with the aim of finding innovative and sustainable solutions to the continuous challenges that the economy poses.

Given the systemic and therefore circular approach of the blue economy, in which the elements are reborn to new life or are made more efficient to use them simultaneously in different areas, it is not surprising that Pauli has recently been very busy promoting the utilization of the infrastructure of light to provide an internet connection that literally has the speed of light! We interviewed him for you to explain how Li-Fi technology could be able to generate work and improve our living conditions in such a critical historical moment and thanks to an already existing infrastructure: that of light.

 

Doct. Pauli, would you please make us understand briefly, what the “Li-Fi” technology is?

As the word insinuates “Li” stands for “light”and “Fi” for “fidelity”, we need to have light: light is life! Actually let’s not forget that the first words of God, according to the Genesis book, were: “Let there be light”. It is no surprise that light is more than just the sun shining on us, light is actually a unique opportunity to communicate. Ever since the LED lamp was invented we have the unique chance to use light to transmit data and to geolocate. The new LED lamps called “the LED of the third generation” only have 1% heat, and convert 99% of the power into light. Therefore you have the capacity to send information in digital format.

Light is a wave made out of photons. We can use these tittilating particles. When you have this chain of very rapid flashes you can translate any piece of information in a simple Morse code. Digitization converts any information into a chain of 0 and 1. Morse code through tittilating light flashes is an easy conversion for very fast transmission. So we can use light to send messages in Morse code, or we can use light to locate an object very precisely. Today when you wish to have the radio wave for data transmission, you obtain a license from the Government. However the number of available radio waves are very limited, perhaps one thousand. On the contrary, there is more than one billion frequencies of light: so we have unlimited, totally democratized, everywhere available light frequency for both transmission of data and geolocalisation.

The power of this proven technology is that nearly everyone can start sending data with light. You need to have an emitter and you have to have a receiver that is capable of converting the data into Morse code. It is embarrassingly simple since every light bulb, every point of light indoors or outdoors can be empowered with a microchip that does this conversion. Even better: anyone who has a phone has already light sensitive parts installed to emit and receive data. A phone is perfectly equipped today to communicate with light. Phones have an infrared light, two cameras, which are made to capture light and connected with all the inner workings of the phone, the screen with 5 or even 7 LED lamps, which can be strengthened to emit and receive, and then the phone has a torch which can be equipped with a code for safety. That means that among 100 million flickers per second, one flicker will give a secret code. Now if you wish to hack it, you have to catch that light beam, but then you disconnect and cause a failure. So, what is our message? Every light has a capacity of sending information and, if the light is connected to a network over either a copper wire or a fiber optic cable, both of which can provide electricity, then it is possible to locate exactly where you are, that means we have geolocalization, or GPS. At the same time we can transmit data at the speed of light. So all lights have the potential to turn into a satellite. This is powerful!

 

What are the main advantages of the Li-Fi technology compared to Wi-Fi and 5G?

The best distributed and readily available infrastructure in the world is the infrastructure of light. Why would one invest and subsidize 5G with billions as private companies and the Governments are doing around the world? If connectivity, speed and data protection is really the priority, then you need to change your light bulb, what makes it more easy? So the first advantage is using an infrastructure that already exists.

The second is that it is high speed. We don’t have to go back to school to learn that light is fast: so we have fast connection. The potential outpaces by far the capacity of radio waves. When today 5G is offering maybe a hundred megabit, maybe one gigabit, in the laboratory the performance of transmission speed and volume of Li-Fi is already 252 gigabits per second. Within 3 years we expect 3 terabits per second! So I don’t understand the fuss about being for or against 5G. As consumer, and as Government we have to go for what is best! And when we talk about the best, light offers the best option. Italy has invested massively in fiber optic networks with a capacity of 10 terabits, and only the light based technology has the capacity to connect at the speed of light, and ensure that the home, office or hospital can continue operating at that speed.

The third advantage solves an issue that Europe is very concerned about: personal data protection. If today you are connected through your wireless communication, all your data is given away. Even if the European Union has clear rules, at every click on the web, every European citizen resigns from this protection and permits its data to be used, and sold. If I have a Li-Fi connection, that means I connect over light and not a radio wave. When you operate your information on a Li-Fi network then the data is yours. That means you decide to share the information or not with third parties. If you operate your information on a mobile network, you have no right to decide. The agreements between the phone operators and, for example Google, are made without your consent. If you operate over Li-Fi you have the power to decide.

The fourth advantage (and I could go on for ages about the advantages, but let’s stick to four), is that when I have a radio wave it’s very easy to hack data. Wi-Fi and all the other wireless systems were not designed to be safe, they were designed to be easy. They actually use a radio wave that is the same as the one of a microwave in the kitchen. If on the other hand I use a light connection, then the only way I can hack into the communications is to stand in between the sender and the receiver, but if I do, that connection breaks down. And this to me is something that is the very key: we, as Europeans value our privacy of data, we know that we’ve been hacked and our data is being stolen. The Li-Fi allows us to protect our data so why are we not using it?

 

What are the advantages for what concerns health?

Health is the most precious thing we have and while no one has proven in the traditional western science that 5G is causing health hazards, nevertheless the WHO has recognized that there’s a portion of the population that is highly sensitive to radio waves.

How comes the industry has even confessed at the United States Senate Hearing that by 2019 it has never studied the impact of radio waves on biology? If you’ve not studied the impact on life, then does it not make sense that one must take precautions? In my book “100 Questions on 100 Pages” our team consulted with more than a hundred scientists. Because the only way to understand the technology and the opportunity it gives, is to have a clear insight on the context.

Therefore I don’t understand the present debate about 5G: anyone who questions is attacked. Are you not even allowed to raise doubts in a society that proposes to be organized as a democracy? They are prohibiting people to ask legitimate questions, because some have decided that since it is not proven it is bad, they have the freedom to operate. The WHO suggests today that the limit of exposure to radio waves is 0.61 volt per square metre. Unfortunately, any society that has introduced IoT is over the limit. So, I’m not saying that because we’re over the limit everyone is getting sick, I’m requesting that we apply the precautionary principle.

But, why would I even worry about the precautionary principle when I know there is a much more effective technology that it is not surrounded by doubts? I’m not the one to decide what is good and what is bad, I’m here to request that we have the right to apply better technologies. And if you cannot ask a question then you have undermined democracy and then we have to stand up not to argue in endless debates where there are commercial interests at stake.

 

What is the maturity stage of technology from the point of view of the functionality of it and the current devices?

If you want to have it installed tomorrow you can: it’s ready, it’s available, you can buy it! You have to change your lamp, cause you need to have this titillating effect, and you need a receiver but that’s all. And because the phone has been made by a company that does not want you to use Li-Fi, you need to have a small device which is the size of a USB, and with that you can be connected everywhere with light.

The system is very simple: you have light, you have connectivity. You don’t have light, you don’t have connectivity. But the infrared lights work as well, so this is a light you do not see. Let’s not forget: there are more places in the world where there is light and electricity, than places where there are antennas for cell phones. Let’s also remember in cities like Milan, Rome, Paris we’re expecting to have one million devices on every square kilometre that need to be connected to radio waves. How many frequencies does light have? One billion.

So, let’s stop debating: for the large majority of stable connections, light can offer ten connection points per IoT (Internet of Things) device! With the density we’re creating (for 5G, Ed.) with a thousand frequencies you need a thousand people on one frequency. What is going to happen? Bad connections. On the other hand I have a billion frequencies by light and I have a million devices: this implies that every device will have the opportunity to connect over a thousand connections. It’s just incredible that we all want to attach to an antenna! As we don’t really know what the impact of the combined power of all of these antennas and devices are and since we do know that these networks are overburdened, we will have to put more and more antennas. If we wish to avoid interference amongst these million devices per square kilometre then we will need to add a drastic number of antennas, consuming more power, more density of the transmission force, more energy, more carbon emissions and more of everything. This system represents one of the fastest growth of energy consumption today.

 

Is direct contact necessary between the source and the receiving object?

5G needs direct connection and line of sights and so does Li-Fi, 3 -4G does not need it. However, there is an advantage with light: I can do mirrors. With sound (and radio) that does not work. That means if I don’t have a direct connection since there is a big pillar in front of me, then I will have a mirror going around it and I can still connect. This mirroring technology is simple and becomes part of the interior design.

In open spaces you will use public light, so every public light on the street will become not only a satellite, but also part of the backbone of your internet connection.The tests have all been done in France, which is leading in this field. China is very fast catching up with the technology. Our US friends are not keenly interested.

 

Can it ever replace radio waves, even outdoors?

I’m not interested to out-compete radio waves, because they’ve been very functional for over a century. This technology was not invented to replace or even eliminate radio waves. The main purpose is to offer to people that do not have quality service and who actually deserve to be connected, the possibility to have a very simple way to connectivity. That could be a blind person in a metro with an impossibility to geolocate to the precise centimetre where they are; or a miner in a deep gold mine in Chile or in South Africa who has a connectivity with the light on its hard hat equipped with a tiny lamp; it could be the student in a school connected with the lamp to have finally high speed while preparing for a doctoral thesis.

We can guarantee every child in school 100 megabits per second connectivity today for a price that is cheaper than the connectivity with 5G. On a case per case situation, where there are street lights available, it is possible to equip the street lights with Li-Fi and provide a much better connectivity than you would ever do with the Wi-MAX or with the Wi-Fi. But if you have no street light and you’re in the forest, then obviously you’d better have a radio connection. But I think that our main goal is high energy efficiency compared to a router and antennas. The light system we are using permits to cut energy consumption by 80%.

So why would you insist on using 5 times more energy when you have for many applications the Li-Fi that uses 5 times less power since you can shift from old lamps to an efficient combination of light, data and geolocalisation? Do you want to insist squandering energy resources? So there are many applications, but if the Wi-Fi system has been already installed, don’t pull it out of the walls and replace it by a new one as long as it is functional.

 

What are the places in the world that are already implementing the Li-Fi and what are the chances to help us overcome this specific crisis?

France, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, China, India… there are dozens of countries that are applying it and there is a World Standard: the International Telecommunications Union has agreed on a World Standard for Li-Fi.

We have to lay out the responses, so that everyone can join and understand what is the context, what is at stake, and what grand opportunities there are with Li-Fi for generating jobs and improving quality of life. Li-Fi has been estimated to generate at least 100 new companies within 12 months for our French platform which will be active just in a few cities, at the moment. So we have to realize that all the projects are chances for new industries – that are more competitive, generate more jobs and make cash circulate in the local economy – thus triggering growth in the local economy.

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