Personal Health: Parenting Advice From ‘America’s Worst Mom’

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Credit Joyce Hesselberth

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, earned the sobriquet “America’s Worst Mom” after reporting in a newspaper column that she had allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone.

The damning criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s many challenges.

One result was the publication in 2009 of her book “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).” A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting Thursday on Discovery Life Channel, called “World’s Worst Mom.” In it, Ms. Skenazy intervenes to rescue bubble-wrapped kids from their overprotective parents by guiding the children safely through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing their anxious parents how well the children perform and how proud they are of what they accomplished.

The term “helicopter parents” applies to far more than those who hover relentlessly over their children’s academic and musical development. As depicted in the first episode of the series, it applies to 10-year-old Sam’s very loving mother who wouldn’t let him ride a bike (“she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt”), cut up his own meat (“Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off”), or play “rough sports” like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: “I just want to do things by myself.”

In an interview, Ms. Skenazy said, “Having been brainwashed by all the stories we hear, there’s a prevailing fear that any time you’re not directly supervising your child, you’re putting the child in danger.” The widespread publicity now given to crimes has created an exaggerated fear of the dangers children face if left to navigate and play on their own.

Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, “the actual rate of strangers abducting or molesting children is very small. It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.”

Experts say there is no more crime against children by strangers today — and probably significantly less — than when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, a time when I walked to school alone and played outdoors with friends unsupervised by adults. “The world is not perfect — it never was — but we used to trust our children in it, and they learned to be resourceful,” Ms. Skenazy said. “The message these anxious parents are giving to their children is ‘I love you, but I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you’re as competent as I am.’ ”

Dr. Gray, author of “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life,” said in an interview, “If children are not allowed to take routine risks, they’ll be less likely to be able to handle real risks when they do occur.”

Case in point: His college’s counseling office has seen a doubling in the rate of emergency calls in the last five years, “mainly for problems kids used to solve on their own,” like being called a bad name by a roommate or finding a mouse in the room. “Students are prepared academically, but they’re not prepared to deal with day-to-day life, which comes from a lack of opportunity to deal with ordinary problems,” Dr. Gray said. “Over the past 60 years, there’s been a huge change, well documented by social scientists, in the hours a day children play outdoors — less than half as much as parents did at their children’s ages,” he said.

In decades past, children made up their own games and acquired important life skills in the process. “In pickup games,” Dr. Gray said, “children make the rules, negotiate, and figure out what’s fair to keep everyone happy. They develop creativity, empathy and the ability to read the minds of other players, instead of having adults make the rules and solve all the problems.”

Dr. Gray links the astronomical rise in childhood depression and anxiety disorders, which are five to eight times more common than they were in the 1950s, to the decline in free play among young children. “Young people today are less likely to have a sense of control over their own lives and more likely to feel they are the victims of circumstances, which is predictive of anxiety and depression,” he said.

There are also physical consequences to restricting children’s outdoor play because there are no adults available to supervise it. Children today spend many more hours indoors than in years past, which in part accounts for the rise in childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Many elementary schools have even canceled recess, believing it is time better spent cramming children’s heads with facts and figures.

“Childhood should be a time of freedom and play, not building a résumé for college,” Dr. Gray said.

As Ms. Skenazy put it, “if parents truly believe children must be supervised every second of the day, then they can’t walk to school, play in the park, or wake up Saturday morning, get on their bikes and go have an adventure.”

Some 2,000 families were screened by the Discovery Life Channel to find 13 families crippled by anxiety yet willing to have an intervention. “The parents weren’t easy pushovers,” Ms. Skenazy said. “Some were very unhappy to see me at first. But once pride in what their children achieved replaced their fears, they were ecstatic — relaxed and happy instead of crippled with fear.”

Ms. Skenazy spent four days with each family, introducing a different challenge each day. Sam learned to cut cheese and slice a tomato with a sharp knife and then made sandwiches for his parents. He also learned to ride a two-wheeler.

“I don’t guarantee I’ll take away all their worry, just give them the confidence to loosen the reins on their kids,” she said. “Kids need roots and wings. Parents give them roots. I give them wings.”

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Tech Fix: Tips and Myths About Extending Smartphone Battery Life

The results showed that some conventional beliefs about extending battery life — like turning off Wi-Fi or shutting down all your phone’s apps — produced negligible or even harmful results. The Wirecutter also found plenty of helpful practices to get more use out of your battery, like playing music stored directly on the device (instead of streaming it) or tweaking email configurations.

The Wirecutter tested a range of recent Apple and Android smartphones with the latest operating systems in tightly controlled environments. Your phone’s results will vary depending on the phone model, cellular carrier, location and other factors, but the general results should hold. Here are eight tips and seven myths busted by our findings:

1. Use auto-brightness for the screen.

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A smartphone’s screen consumes more energy than any other component, so the easiest way to cut down battery drain is to reduce your screen brightness. In an hourlong test, an iPhone 6s used 54 percent less battery power with the screen brightness at minimum as compared with maximum brightness. An Android test phone used 30 percent less.

But it’s tough to use a dim screen in bright environments, so most phones offer an auto-brightness mode that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on ambient light. The Wirecutter found that enabling auto-brightness saved a good amount of battery life.

2. Block power-sucking ads.

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When browsing the web, your smartphone also burns through power when it downloads mobile ads on websites. Installing an ad blocker will greatly extend battery life.

The Wirecutter ran a test that cycled through a list of websites for two hours over a Wi-Fi connection. Safari on an iPhone 6s used 18 percent of a full battery; Chrome on a Moto X Pure Android phone used 22 percent. Installing the 1Blocker ad blocker on the iPhone reduced battery usage for the same test to only 9 percent of a full battery; on an Android phone, using the Ghostery Privacy Browser, which blocks ads, used only 8 percent of the battery.

3. Tweak your email settings.

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Email can have a major impact on battery life if you have multiple email accounts and receive lots of email. Your smartphone can update your email automatically using a technology called push, which brings new messages to your phone the instant they are transmitted. Push can be a power hog because it requires your phone to constantly listen for new messages, so if you get a lot of email, there’s a good chance your phone is using lots of energy.

The Wirecutter tested an iPhone 6s Plus configured with three email accounts, receiving a total of 20 to 30 messages an hour. In these tests, having push active over the course of a day caused Mail to account for 5 to 10 percent of the phone’s overall battery use.

To save energy, most phones can be configured to instead check for (or “fetch”) emails on a schedule — say, every 30 minutes — or only when you manually tell your email app to refresh.

4. Play downloaded music instead of streaming.

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The next tip may come as unwelcome news. Nowadays, online streaming is the most popular way to listen to music, with services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — but this method guzzles lots of battery power. In the Wirecutter’s tests, streaming music over a Wi-Fi connection for two hours used 10 percent of an iPhone’s battery reserves; streaming the same music stored directly on a device over two hours consumed only 5 percent.

Fortunately, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music still let you listen to songs the old-school way: by storing the music right on your device.

5. Turn off wireless when reception is poor.

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You may have noticed that when you’re in a place without good Wi-Fi or cellular coverage, your phone’s battery seems to drain much more quickly. That’s because the phone uses energy searching for a good signal and, if the signal is very weak, trying to get a better connection.

To conserve battery life, disable the phone’s wireless circuitry. Airplane Mode, an option that will turn off all wireless features, is a quick and easy solution in areas with poor reception.

Alternatively, you can disable (in your phone’s settings) a single wireless feature. For example, if you have terrible wireless carrier coverage in your office, but Wi-Fi is great, disabling cellular connectivity while there will keep the phone from wasting energy trying to get a cellular connection while still letting you connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi.

6. Check the battery usage lists.

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Consumers can get even better results with a bit of sleuthing. Both the iPhone and Android systems provide a simple way to see which apps are using a lot of battery power. For iPhones and Android phones, open the Settings app and in the Battery menu, there are sorted lists of apps that are using the most energy.

On the iPhone’s battery usage screen, tap the clock button to reveal information about how much of your battery life each app is consuming when you’re actively using the app (“screen”) compared with when you’re not (“backgd”). On Android, the most useful information are the timers for “CPU total” and “CPU foreground.” Foreground is how much time you had the app open; subtract “foreground” from “total,” and you’ll know how much time the app has been busy in the background.

Be on the lookout for apps that are active for extended periods in the background and are using a lot of battery power. Examples include an email app that spends lots of time checking for new messages even when your phone is asleep, a news reader that updates articles in the background or a fitness app that constantly monitors your location.

If you find apps using up lots of energy in the background, disable their background activities. On an iPhone, go to the Settings app, tap General and then Background App Refresh and disable the background activities for any apps. On Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Data Usage, choose an app, then select “Restrict Background Data” for background data usage.

7. Disable unnecessary location tracking.

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Watch out for apps that track your location. Your phone’s GPS circuitry, which determines your geographic location for mapping and fitness features, consumes a lot of battery power. A run-tracking program that monitors your precise location for the duration of an hourlong run will lower your battery level.

If a location-based app is using a lot of power, especially in the background, there’s a good chance the app is using GPS, Wi-Fi and the phone’s sensors frequently. You can decide whether to disable location features for it (either via your phone’s Location Services settings, or by changing settings in the app itself). On an iPhone, you can disable the app’s ability to track your location by going to Privacy menu and Location Services.

To disable location tracking on Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Apps, choose an app and select “Permissions,” then tap to disable Location permission.

8. Shut off unnecessary push notifications.

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Both Apple and Google recommend disabling push notifications, which are essentially app alerts, to conserve battery life. Notifications require regular communication with notification servers, and each notification causes your phone to wake up for a few seconds, including turning on the screen, to show you a message and give you a chance to act on it.

In the Wirecutter’s testing, receiving a few dozen notifications over the course of an hour didn’t noticeably affect battery usage. But if you get a lot of notifications each day, that energy use can add up. If a particular app or service (say, Twitter or your email client) is constantly producing notifications, consider disabling notifications for that app.

On an iPhone, open the Settings app, tap Notifications, tap the app name and disable Allow Notifications. On Android, disable notification in an app’s settings menu, or long-press the notification itself and select the “i” icon. This will send you to that app’s App Notifications settings, where you can block all notifications.

Beware battery-saving myths.

1. Closing unused apps.

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There is plenty of inaccurate conventional wisdom about methods to prolong battery life. Let’s start with one of the worst “tips”: Closing (or force-quitting, as it’s commonly called) apps you are not currently using. The theory is that apps running in the background are using your phone’s components, so quitting them will save energy.

While that may be true on a computer, smartphones are designed differently: Once an app is no longer in the foreground — meaning you are not actively using it — most or all of its processes are frozen. In other words, while an app may still be loaded in a phone’s memory, it probably is not doing much in the background to drain your battery.

Finally, quitting apps actually has drawbacks: When you force-quit an app, all of its code can be purged from your phone’s RAM, which means that the next time you open the app, the phone has to reload all of that code. That, of course, requires energy.

2. Don’t assume turning off Wi-Fi will always help.

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A common suggestion for extending battery life is to disable Wi-Fi. However, if you’re in range of a strong Wi-Fi signal, your phone uses less energy to connect to the Internet with a Wi-Fi connection than a cellular one. If you regularly use apps that rely on your location, having Wi-Fi enabled helps your phone determine its location without having to rely solely on power-hungry GPS features, so it actually helps a battery last longer.

An exception is when you’re at the edges of a Wi-Fi network, where your phone is struggling to get a good connection, and you have a good cellular data connection. But in most cases, you’re usually better off keeping Wi-Fi enabled.

3. Avoid disabling all location services.

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Many apps that use your location do so only intermittently. Even using the Maps app for short navigation sessions doesn’t use more than a few percent of your battery’s capacity — and having the phone’s screen continually on is a big part of why navigation uses a lot of power.

In other words, don’t disable all of your phone’s location-based features just to extend your battery life. You won’t see a big jump in use time, but you may end up disabling — and subsequently missing — useful features. Instead, check (using the tips above) to see if any of apps consuming the most battery life also track your location. If so, and if you don’t need that location tracking, consider disabling it for those apps.

4. Don’t always choose Wi-Fi over cellular.

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Many people, and even smartphone vendors such as Apple, claim that using Wi-Fi for wireless data consumes less power than using a cellular signal, so you should use Wi-Fi whenever you can. However, the Wirecutter’s testing found this isn’t always the case.

In testing in a location where both Wi-Fi and cellular LTE signals were strong, an hour of browsing over Wi-Fi used roughly the same amount of battery power as an hour using LTE on an iPhone. On a Motorola Android phone, LTE used only 2 to 3 percent more power than Wi-Fi.

In other words, as long as you have a good signal, you probably won’t see a huge difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data, and it’s probably not worth the hassle of switching between the two.

5. Let Siri and Google listen for your commands.

Both iPhones and Android phones include a hands-free feature for summoning their virtual assistants by speaking voice commands. You can just say “Hey Siri” to the iPhone or “O.K. Google” and then speak your request or command. While convenient, this feature requires your phone to constantly listen for that special phrase, which uses some power.

Yet if you have one of the phones that supports this feature, disabling it won’t conserve much battery life. In the Wirecutter’s testing with an iPhone 6s Plus and a Nexus 6P, there was a negligible difference in battery usage between having the always-on virtual assistant enabled or disabled over a two-hour period.

Using Siri or O.K. Google uses some energy, so if your phone’s battery is getting low, you should probably stop asking the phone question after question during your commute. But just having the feature enabled isn’t worth worrying about — and it can be quite convenient.

6. Don’t forgo third-party chargers made by reputable vendors.

A common warning around the Internet is that you should use only the charger that came with your phone, otherwise you could damage your phone’s battery. In reality, the phone itself contains all the circuitry responsible for charging its battery. The AC adapter (as it’s more accurately known) simply converts the AC current from a wall outlet into low-voltage, low-amperage DC current that it provides via a USB port. This is why you can also charge your phone using the USB port on a computer, a USB battery pack or a charger in your car — the phone is designed to allow it to charge from a variety of power sources that can produce a wide range of current.

Finally, you may see warnings that a cheap third-party charger could damage your phone. There’s some truth here: Many chargers — especially budget models sold online, or even at your local shopping mall kiosk — are poorly made, or use low-quality components. A poorly made charger can not only damage your phone, but could also hurt you by exposing you to dangerous currents. So if you’re replacing your phone’s AC adapter, or buying an extra, stick with a reputable vendor.

7. Calibrate only occasionally.

For many years, devices that used rechargeable batteries required “conditioning” or “calibrating,” a procedure that prevented the battery from forgetting how much capacity it actually had. Today’s smartphone batteries no longer suffer from this issue.

What can happen, however, is that the phone itself loses track of how much capacity its battery has: Every battery gradually loses capacity over time as you use and recharge it, and the phone’s software isn’t always good at accounting for this capacity change. By periodically (once every couple of months) fully charging the phone and then using it until it dies, your phone’s software will determine the battery’s current capacity and thus let the phone better estimate how long it will last on a charge. In other words, the battery won’t last any longer, but the phone’s battery meter will be more accurate. If you find that your phone claims you have 80 percent of a charge left, but it dies a few hours later, you should try this procedure.

If all else fails …

If you have tried all the above and still struggle to get through the day with your battery, consider buying an external battery. These accessories — which can take the form of a bulky case with a built-in battery that you wear on the phone, or a separate battery pack that connects to your phone with a cable — can provide power to last an additional few hours at the end of the day, or even to fully charge your phone’s battery.

The Wirecutter tested more than 100 external batteries for dozens of hours to pick a few favorites. Its favorite battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s is Anker’s Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case, which has enough power to fully charge a dead iPhone and then some, more than doubling the phone’s battery life. For larger iPhones — the 6 Plus and 6s Plus — the Wirecutter prefers Tylt’s Energi Sliding Power Case because the case’s two-piece design makes it appealing.

For Android phones, an external battery pack is a good option. The AmazonBasics Portable Power Bank with Micro USB Cable 2,000 mAh is the best pack the Wirecutter tested that will fit in your pocket with your phone, and it’s less than $10. A great battery pack for the iPhone is the $29 TravelCard, which is almost thin enough to fit in a wallet — with a built-in Lightning-connector cable to charge your phone.

For days of smartphone power, the Anker PowerCore 15600 is the Wirecutter’s pick if you need to charge a phone repeatedly or keep a full-size tablet and phone topped up through a busy week. It has enough available power to charge a typical smartphone five times or to fill a large tablet such as an iPad Air almost twice — for under $40.

After her stressful day at Disneyland, Ms. Temeña bought an external Amazon battery pack. She said the pack could fully charge her phone six times, but it wasn’t ideal because of its bulk. Ultimately, she wishes her iPhone had a better battery.

“I don’t understand why a battery wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the other advances they’re putting into phones now,” she said.

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Bits: What 5G Will Mean for You

According to global tech and telecom companies that are spending billions of dollars, combined, on the new wireless technology:

■ With 5G, downloading feature-length movies could take less than five seconds.

■ With 4G, downloading feature-length movies could take as long as eight minutes.

Such technology will not come cheap. Carriers and telecom equipment makers will have to install new hardware like cellphone towers in rural areas and tiny mobile hot spots in dense urban areas to reach the 10 gigabits per second target. They will also have to increasingly rely on sophisticated software to manage the expected exponential jump in mobile data traffic. So just as most people’s cellphone bills have risen as they watch more videos and access other entertainment on their mobile devices, expect operators to charge a hefty premium for these new ultrafast services.

Networks that connect millions of new devices

5G is not just about speed. Companies are also preparing for millions of new wireless devices — such as smartwatches and other wearable items, as well as sensors embedded in industrial products — to be connected to the next generation of cellphone networks.

These devices will not use a lot of data (a sensor built into a highway, for instance, will need to send only small amounts of digital information across the network every couple of hours). But when combined, these hundreds of millions — potentially billions — of new sensors will require almost universal connectivity, or the ability to go online no matter where they are, forcing operators to extend their networks to practically every corner of a country.

These devices will potentially be an important new revenue stream for carriers worldwide. Many operators, particularly in Europe, are finding it tough to charge customers more for their increased use of mobile data. But if carriers can persuade businesses in industries like health care as well as industrial conglomerates like General Electric to sign up for new mobile Internet services that connect tiny sensors to the Internet, then operators may have stumbled onto a new way of making money.

Driverless cars with extremely fast response times

If 5G can offer ultrafast mobile Internet speeds, then why should you care about how quickly one device can communicate with another? In short, you shouldn’t. And as current mobile networks offer so-called latency, or digital response times, of around 50 to 80 milliseconds (the time it takes for a web page to load on your smartphone), reducing that speed to a mere millisecond — the goal under most companies’ 5G plans — might not add much to users’ mobile experiences.

Yet that extremely fast response time will be essential for many of the new services that will most likely be offered on 5G networks. A prime example is driverless cars. These machines will have to communicate almost in real time with everything around them to avoid cyclists and other obstacles. That can happen only if carriers offer one-millisecond latency, something that may become a lifesaver if autonomous cars become a reality.

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5G Is a New Frontier for Mobile Carriers and Tech Companies

The competition has led to research worth billions of dollars from telecommunications equipment makers like Ericsson of Sweden and Huawei of China, which are hoping to secure lucrative contracts to upgrade the mobile Internet infrastructure of operators like AT&T from the United States and China Mobile in Asia. Those plans have become even faster paced as tech giants including Google consider their own ambitions for the latest, and fastest, high-speed Internet.

“Everyone is rushing to demonstrate they are a leading player for 5G,” said Bengt Nordstrom, co-founder of Northstream, a telecom consulting firm, in Stockholm.

The efforts around 5G will be on display at Mobile World Congress, a four-day tech and telecom event in Barcelona that begins on Monday. Most of the world’s largest operators and device makers like Samsung are expected to announce their latest wireless technology, including smartphones, wearable products and digital applications at the trade show.

Not to be outdone, telecom manufacturers also have announced glitzy demonstrations — including driverless cars, remote-controlled drones and autonomous robots balancing balls on tablets — to showcase their 5G credibility. The need to persuade carriers to buy the latest wireless technology has become ever more important as operators consider cutting investment plans in the face of a global economic downturn.

“If we miss the chance to make our networks relevant, it will be a disaster,” said Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson’s chief technology officer. “The billion-dollar question is what will a 5G network look like?”

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Rahim Tafazolli, director of the University of Surrey’s research center that oversees the 5G project. Credit Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Despite companies’ efforts to outspend each other, that question remains unanswered.

A global standard for 5G wireless technology will not be finished before 2019, at the earliest. Companies worldwide must agree on how their networks talk to each other, so users’ mobile connections do not become patchy when traveling overseas. That involves lengthy negotiations over what type of radio waves the new technology should use, among other complicated global agreements, which can take years.

As a result, carriers, telecom equipment makers and tech companies are lobbying global-standard bodies and national lawmakers to promote their own technologies over rivals’, according to industry executives and telecom analysts. Because of this jockeying, a widespread rollout of 5G networks is not expected until well into the next decade.

Some analysts question why carriers are focusing on the next generation of wireless technology when many parts of the world, particularly in emerging markets, still suffer from achingly slow mobile Internet access. And industry experts say mobile Internet speeds in much of the developed world, especially in places like South Korea, where connections are often comparable to traditional broadband, already meet people’s needs.

“A lot of this is about carriers and equipment makers looking for new ways to make money,” said Thomas Husson, an analyst at Forrester Research in Paris. “Consumers shouldn’t expect great things until after 2020.”

These challenges have not stopped companies from staking a claim in hopes of being at the forefront of 5G.

That is particularly true ahead of major global sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup, at which carriers and national governments want to promote their technological know-how. At the 2018 World Cup, which will be held in Russia, for instance, the local operators MegaFon and MTS are expected to test 5G-style services, including ultrafast mobile Internet, even without global standards in place.

The Korean mobile operator KT also plans to offer its own version of 5G technology at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and NTT DoCoMo has said it will have similar trials ready for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“The only way of learning is by doing,” said Mats Svardh, head of networks at the Scandinavian carrier TeliaSonera, which will test its own 5G technology in both Stockholm and Tallinn, Estonia, in 2018. “It’s about putting pressure on ourselves to move forward with specifics, not just theories.”

United States carriers have also jumped on the 5G bandwagon, partly to offer people new services as current mobile speeds have become relatively interchangeable between major operators nationwide.

Last year, Verizon Wireless announced that it would start testing new wireless technology in 2016 in order to offer new services, including potentially ultrafast mobile Internet, sometime next year. Last month, AT&T countered with its own tests — expected to start in Austin, Tex., by the end of 2016 — that could offer mobile speeds roughly 100 times faster than its current offering.“We will be ready when it’s ready,” said John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer, who added that traditional rivals like Verizon and new arrivals like Google could eventually compete to offer 5G services. “Everywhere you don’t solve a problem, someone else might step in.”

For Dr. Tafazolli, of the University of Surrey, whose team started working on 5G in late 2011, these battles have led to an increasing number of companies offering support — including the use of high-speed computer servers, costly radio antennas and millions of dollars of financing to research and build the next-generation wireless network on his college campus, he said. Their primary goal: to test their latest technology in a real-world setting.

“In the race to 5G, everyone wants to be first,” he said.

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Apple Sees Value in Its Stand to Protect Security

The company is playing the long game with its business. Privacy and security have become part of its brand, especially internationally, where it reaps almost two-thirds of its almost $234 billion a year in sales. And if it cooperates with one government, the thinking goes, it will have to cooperate with all of them.

“Tim Cook is leveraging his personal brand and Apple’s to stand on the side of consumer privacy in this environment,” said Mark Bartholomew, a law professor at the University at Buffalo who studies encryption and cyberlaw. “He is taking the long view.”

Mr. Cook, who has called privacy a civic duty, said as much in a letter to Apple customers on Tuesday. He described how the United States government was asking for a special tool to break into the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone and said, “The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.”

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An Apple Store in Beijing. For Chinese consumers, the iPhone’s high security has become a way to thwart hackers and criminals. Credit Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the remarks in Mr. Cook’s letter.

The business advantage Apple may get from privacy has given critics an opening to attack the company. In a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department said Apple’s opposition to helping law enforcement appeared “to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

Apple senior executives responded that their defiance was not a business choice. They said there had not been any business fallout and that Mr. Cook had received supportive emails from customers across the country.

In fact, Apple has not made a point of advertising data security and privacy. The company has quietly built privacy features into its mobile operating system, known as iOS, over time. By late 2013, when Apple released its iOS 7 system, the company was encrypting by default all third-party data stored on customers’ phones. And iOS8, which became available in 2014, made it basically impossible for the company’s engineers to extract any data from mobile phones and tablets.

Mr. Cook has also been vocal about how Apple is pro-privacy, a message that he discussed more widely after revelations from the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden about government surveillance. Mr. Cook argued that the company sold hardware — phones, tablets and laptops — and did not depend on the mass collection of consumer data as some Silicon Valley behemoths, such as Google and Facebook, do for their advertising-oriented businesses.

At a conference in October, Mr. Cook called privacy a “key value” at Apple and said, “We think that it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are sort of in the open and being used for all sorts of things.”

For Apple, cooperating with the United States government now could quickly lead to murkier situations internationally.

In China, for example, Apple — like any other foreign company selling smartphones — hands over devices for import checks by Chinese regulators. Apple also maintains server computers in China, but Apple has previously said that Beijing cannot view the data and that the keys to the servers are not stored in China. In practice and according to Chinese law, Beijing typically has access to any data stored in China.

If Apple accedes to American law enforcement demands for opening the iPhone in the San Bernardino case and Beijing asks for a similar tool, it is unlikely Apple would be able to control China’s use of it. Yet if Apple were to refuse Beijing, it would potentially face a battery of penalties.

Analysts said Chinese officials were pushing for greater control over the encryption and security of computers and phones sold in the country, though Beijing last year backed off on some proposals that would have required foreign companies to provide encryption keys for devices sold in the country after facing pressure from foreign trade groups.

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Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief, in 2014. Mr. Cook has received emails of support for refusing to decrypt an iPhone. Credit Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

“People tend to forget the global impact of this,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, policy director at Access Now, a nonprofit that works for Internet freedoms. “The reality is the damage done when a democratic government does something like this is massive. It’s even more negative in places where there are fewer freedoms.”

Governments in Russia, Britain and Israel also have robust surveillance operations. Some governments have tried to use technology to gather intelligence on citizens at home and abroad.

Apple’s resistance to the United States government’s demand has been polarizing. Apple supporters have held protests in cities like San Francisco in recent days to show their support of the company and have used hashtags on social media like #freeapple and #beatthecase.

“We’re fighting to maintain even the assumption that companies should protect us,” said Evan Greer, the campaign director at Fight for the Future, a civil liberties group that is organizing protests nationwide on Tuesday to support Apple. “Apple is doing what every company should be doing.”

Others, including the Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, have criticized Apple, and Mr. Trump has suggested boycotting its products.

Around the world, people are aware of the impasse but many say it does not affect their decision to buy iPhones and the company’s other products. In Rome on Friday, Simone Farelli, a 34-year-old history teacher who was browsing for a new iPhone at an Apple Store, said she “didn’t see why” the company’s standoff with the Federal Bureau of Investigation “would change my mind about buying a new phone.”

In China, the iPhone continues to hold a special place as a symbol of middle-class status.

Wen Shuyue, a 35-year-old consultant, who on Friday was waiting outside the Apple Store in Beijing’s upscale Sanlitun district, is one of Apple’s millions of Chinese users. He said he liked the iPhone because it was simply better than models made by Chinese companies such as Xiaomi and Huawei.

“I’ve never used Xiaomi or Huawei, because I think their designs are rough and not all that personal,” he said.

Apple’s shareholders have so far been quiet. In the past, investors who complained that some of Apple’s socially driven initiatives were superfluous to the company’s core business were quickly subdued. At a 2014 shareholders’ meeting, Mr. Cook told investors that if they wanted him to make decisions based only on the bottom line, “then you should get out of the stock.”

But data privacy may eventually motivate investors — and ultimately more customers — to vote with their wallets because “it’s an issue that speaks directly to the business,” said Michael Cusumano, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. “Right now people buy phones regardless of encryption issues, but we have to wait and see how bloody this fight gets.”

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