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Building a Subversive Grassroots Network

How Commotion Wireless plans to enable digital communication in the face of an Internet shutdown

4 min read

26 July 2011—Shutting off digital communication is a new addition to the dictator’s tool kit. This year, between 28 January and 2 February, Hosni Mubarak shut down Egypt’s Internet and cellphone service, hobbling protestors’ ability to organize. In Libya, the Internet was suspended for 7 hours in February, and in June, the Syrian government cut off most of the country’s access for three days.

Fortunately, in a world full of hackers, technology is hard to control, even for autocrats. Hackers are creating a way for citizens to build their own communication networks from the ground up, using computers, cellphones, and wireless routers. Such networks—called mobile ad hoc networks, or MANETs—would circumvent centralized communication hubs, enabling users to talk and share information in the face of a shutdown.

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How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

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