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The End of Spectrum Scarcity

New technologies and regulatory reform will bring a bandwidth bonanza

11 min read

Radio spectrum may be one of the most tightly regulated resources of all time. From cellphones to police scanners, from TV sets to garage-door openers, virtually every wireless device depends on access to the radio frequency wireless spectrum. But access to spectrum has been chronically limited ever since RF transmissions were first regulated in the early 20th century. Now that's all about to change. New technologies that use spectrum more efficiently and more cooperatively, unleashed by regulatory reforms, may soon overcome the spectrum shortage.

Since the 1920s, regulators have assumed that new transmitters will interfere with other uses of the radio spectrum, leading to the "doctrine of spectrum scarcity." As a result, every wireless system has required an exclusive license from the government. With virtually all usable radio frequencies already licensed to commercial operators and government entities, the upshot has been, in the words of former U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair William Kennard, a "spectrum drought." We've become accustomed to seeing every new commercial service, from satellite broadcasting to wireless local-area networks, compete for licenses with numerous existing users, including the government--all of which guard their spectrum jealously. Cellular phone service, for example, was demonstrated in the lab in 1949 but not deployed until the 1980s, largely because of licensing delays.

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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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