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Clearer Signals Through the Smoke

With cables and portable repeaters, the New York City Fire Department is trying to make radios more reliable in unthinkable situations

5 min read

9 February 2005--Firefighters know what to look for inside a burning building. But until very recently, firefighters in New York City's tall buildings had too little assurance that they'd be able to tell each other what they were seeing. The New York City Fire Department's radio system often failed to get messages through collapsed walls or exposed steel. With two innovations, the department is working to change that.

One development is the brainchild of a retired department captain, who designed portable repeaters, high-powered radios that a fire chief can carry to a burning high-rise. A repeater works basically like an amplifier, picking up short-range radio traffic and carrying it over greater distances. A chief can carry the 9-kilogram repeater, called the Command Post Radio, to a burning high-rise and install it in the lobby or on the floor below a blaze. A separate effort involves putting new wiring inside tall buildings and subway tunnels to carry these conversations along so-called leaky cables when concrete and steel block the airwaves. Such a cable, 300 meters long, was installed last summer in the landmark Chrysler Building's elevator shaft.

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Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

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