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LiFi: 214 Million Reasons Why it's Ready to Light Up Retail in 2018

Here we go again, people: its "trend time." It seems that almost every New Year brings with it a plethora of predictions for the year to come. And 2018 looks to be no different. Analysts, pundits and industry experts are all kicking off the New Year by predicting what the next 12 months of retail will look like. Aptos' Retail Transformation Officer, Vicki Cantrell is no exception. Check out a few of her predictions that were featured in Chain Store Age, RIS News and Customer Experience Magazine.

The Foreseeable Future

As Vicki and other experts concurred, there are several trends that will continue to gain steam in 2018:

  • Chat bots have dominated lots of conversations regarding 2018 trends.
  • Almost everyone believes artificial intelligence has come of age and will have a major impact on the way we interact with shoppers next year.
  • Still more people believe that mobile payments will reach a tipping point in 2018.
  • The long-anticipated arrival of the Internet of Things inside the store is believed by most to be imminent.
  • Some, but not all, analysts expect blockchain technologies to become a fundamental building block of supply chains. Others expect blockchain-based cryptocurrencies to make an entrance in 2018 as well.
  • Numerous pundits predict that the momentum behind store experience reinvention will increase in 2018, as more retailers begin reinventing their store experiences to better align with shopper expectations.

Most of the predicted trends have already started to make an impact in our industry, and I would be surprised if even one of them failed to expand its role in retail in 2018.

LiFi 101: Shedding a Little Light on the Subject

But there is one trend, I would argue, that is absent from these lists: LiFi.

LiFi – short for light fidelity – is a visual communication system that uses common LED light bulbs to transfer data at breakneck speeds. Researchers have consistently clocked LiFi transfer rates at 1 Gbps in real-world tests. In lab environments they have documented speeds as high as 224 Gbps. Consider that "just" 1 Gbps is still 100 times faster than WiFi.

Although invented way back in 2011, line-of-sight connectivity requirements and limited bulb types have inhibited LiFi adoption. To date, most LiFi fixtures have either been small lamps or recessed can lights. Earlier this year, however, Fresno, California-based Linmore LED, introduced their LED LiFi Light Bar fixtures.  These new fixtures are designed to replace traditional (and nearly ubiquitous in retail) fluorescent tubes with new LED light bars equipped with built-in LiFi technology.

Thinking Inside the (Light) Box

Here is my thinking: AI, NFC, RFID, IoT, AR and just about any other technology trend out there depends on data to be effective. In many cases the adoption (and success) of these trends will depend upon lots of data being shared extremely quickly. And yet to date, many retailers have been slow to invest in high-capacity, high-speed WiFi networks in their stores.

That's where LiFi comes in.

According to the US Department of Energy, there are 214,765,239 fluorescent lamps lining the ceilings of retail stores across America. That's 214 million fixtures just waiting to be transformed into high speed data networks. That's 214 million opportunities to help deliver the data that can lead to richer, more personalized, more engaging experiences in every corner of every store.

Imagine what this means to us in retail who depend on data to help engage customers differently. When I imagine the possibilities, I can start to see how this trend, this little-known, under-reported trend, could become one of the most impactful innovation enablers that will materialize in 2018.

As a bonus, LED fixtures offer energy savings of as much as 75% over traditional fluorescent tubes. It's therefore entirely possible that conversion to LiFi-enabled LED bars could pay for itself in a very short time.

And I imagine that would make for a very happy New Year, indeed.