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Wi-Fi and Cellular: Who’s the Boss?

Why invest in picocells instead of using the ones we already have?

3 min read
Wi-Fi and Cellular: Who’s the Boss?
Illustration: James Steinberg

The cellular bands are nearly filled, new spectrum is hard to come by, and modulation techniques already use existing spectrum about as efficiently as possible. What’s left to do? A recent report [PDF] of the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology concludes that we must move to smaller and smaller cells. As the cell size shrinks, system capacity becomes virtually limitless.

I imagine a world filled with wireless picocells. But wait—don’t we already have something approaching that with the spread of Wi-Fi hot spots? I consider the one I’m using right now, as I write this column in a coffee shop. The shop’s little cell—where is it? behind the counter?—covers my fellow dozen customers. There’s another cell next door, and next door to that, and so on, all the way down the street. In fact, when I drive through this little community, I’m never out of range of a Wi-Fi hot spot.

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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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