Aqua-Fi: An underwater WiFi system

Delivering internet underwater using wireless optical networks.

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The Internet continues to be an information and communication tool worldwide, yet we struggle to connect to the web from underwater.

Scientists are continuously putting their efforts into understanding underwater environments in detail. Wireless internet under the sea would enable divers to talk without hand signals and send live data to the surface.

Underwater communication is conceivable with radio, acoustic, and visible light signals. In any case, radio can convey data over short distances, while acoustic signals bolster long distances, yet with a limited data rate. Visible light can go far and convey bunches of information; however, the narrow light beams require a clear line of sight between the transmitters and receivers.

In a new study, led by Basem Shihada from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, scientists have built an underwater wireless system called Aqua-Fi. The Aqua-Fi can support internet services such as sending multimedia messages using either LEDs or lasers. 

The system mainly uses green LEDs or a 520-nanometer laser to send data from a small, simple computer to a light detector connected to another computer. The first computer converts photos and videos into bits (0 or 1), which are then translated into light beams turning on and off at very high speeds. The light detector senses this variation and turns it back into bits, in which the receiving computer converts back into the original footage.

Both computers were set a few meters apart in static water. Scientists tested their system by simultaneously uploading and downloading multimedia between two computers. The obtained maximum data transfer rate of 2.11 megabytes per second and an average delay of 1.00 millisecond for a round trip.

Scuba divers could send sea life shots in real time using an aquatic internet service.
Scuba divers could send sea life shots in real time using an aquatic internet service. Credit: 2020 KAUST; Xavier Pita

Shihada said“This is the first time anyone has used the internet underwater completely wirelessly.”

“In the real world, Aqua-Fi would use radio waves to send data from a diver’s smartphone to a “gateway” device attached to their gear. Then, much like a booster that extends the WiFi range of a household internet router, this gateway sends the data via a light beam to a computer at the surface that is connected to the internet via satellite.”

“Aqua-Fi will not be available until we overcome several obstacles. We hope to improve the link quality and the transmission range with faster electronic components. The light beam must also remain perfectly aligned with the receiver in moving waters, and the team is considering a spherical receiver that can capture light from all angles.”

“We have created a relatively cheap and flexible way to connect underwater environments to the global internet. We hope that one day, Aqua-Fi will be as widely used underwater as WiFi is above water.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Basem Shihada et al. Aqua-Fi: Delivering Internet Underwater Using Wireless Optical Networks. DOI: 10.1109/MCOM.001.2000009