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The Silence of the Cellphones

Engineers are working on ways to disable contraband cellphones

3 min read

You’re enjoying a rare bit of peace and quiet, perhaps dozing on a train, when someone begins a loud cellphone conversation nearby. Electromagnetic countermeasures are available to reclaim the silence, but for the most part they are illegal. In the United States, for example, only federal agents can legally use signal jammers to block cellular communications by transmitting interfering signals. Even state prison officials, who want jammers to prevent inmates from talking on contraband cellphones, are barred from using them.

This aspect of U.S. law has created quite a stir in recent years. Things boiled over in January, when lawyers for the CTIA, a wireless-industry association, petitioned the courts to forbid even a 30-minute test of a cellphone-jamming system in a Washington, D.C., prison. On the flip side, legislation proposed in Congress in January would legalize cellphone jamming in prisons.

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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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