Enhancing robustness and energy efficiency is critical in visible light communication (VLC) to support large-scale data traffic and connectivity of smart devices in the era of fifth-generation networks. To this end, we demonstrate that amorphous silicon (a-Si) thin-film solar cells with a high light absorption coefficient are particularly useful for simultaneous robust signal detection and efficient energy harvesting under the condition of weak light in this study. Moreover, a first-generation prototype called AquaE-lite is developed that consists of an a-Si thin-film solar panel and receiver circuits, which can detect weak light as low as 1 µW/cm2. Using AquaE-lite and a white-light laser, orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing signals with data rates of 1 Mb/s and 908.2 kb/s are achieved over a 20-m long-distance air channel and 2.4-m turbid outdoor pool water, respectively, under the condition of strong background light. The reliable VLC system based on energy-efficient a-Si thin-film solar cells opens a new pathway for future satellite-air-ground-ocean optical wireless communication to realize connectivity among millions of Internet of Things devices.