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Spectrum-Stretching Tunable Antennas to the Rescue

Smart receivers seek out quiet spots in the noisy, overcrowded airwaves

4 min read
02NWFCCInterference Phillip Bartlett iStockphoto
Photo: Phillip Bartlett/iStockphoto

New types of antennas that are smart enough to dodge interference and stretch the usable radio spectrum are slipping into our cellphones—and just in time. Mobile customers’ demand for e-mail, streaming video, and apps is pushing telecom’s existing bandwidth capacity to the brink. The big U.S. wireless companies are falling over each other trying to buy up more radio spectrum, but they also need to use the spectrum already at their disposal more efficiently.

Under today’s rules, chunks of useful spectrum are off-limits for telecommunications. A big problem is the guard band, a silent area that separates adjacent slots of usable spectrum. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) worries that without guard bands, telecom transmissions will start jostling on the airwaves, annoying cellphone users and others with noisy interference. Or worse, as more services crowd into the finite spectrum, the price of cellphone and data service could spike. The solution could be new kinds of antennas that are tunable and smart enough to shift among many bands of the radio spectrum in search of a quieter frequency.

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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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