Four Catholic churches in Mexico have turned to high-tech devices to solve an ever-growing problem: the increasing use of cell-phone and its accompanying ring tones. Often, churchgoers forget to mute or turn off their phones as they enter the sanctuary, and several phones ring during each mass service. To solve this problem, church leaders have imported Israeli-built cell-phone jamming devices to eradicate phone signals – the same devices used to protect embassies and presidential motorcades from cell-phone triggered bombs.
"These devices have solved a very big problem for us," said Gloria Cardenas Agüero, secretary at the Rosario church. "This time in church belongs to God, and you should respect it."
Many of the churches in Mexico are old, often built with stone, inherently amplifying the acoustics. Coupled with the fact that one in four Mexicans have cell-phones, ranking as the 11th nation in total cell-phone usage, the problem has continued to exacerbate.
"The acoustics of our church are very good, and the ceilings are 20 meters high. When a phone rings, everyone hears it," said Bulmaro Carranza Lugo, the church's sacristan, or building manager.
Sacred Heart Church in downtown Monterrey, a national landmark with 60-foot high ceilings, was the first church to get the jammers. Rodrigo de la Mora Elizondo, an insurance salesman with a degree in electronic engineering, was consulted to help rectify the problem.
"The priest at Sacred Heart is a family friend, and one day he said to me, 'You know about these things, you have to help me solve this problem,' " de la Mora said. So De la Mora contacted an Israeli company called Netline, whose staff includes Israeli-trained warfare specialists, and purchased two of the company’s jammers. The devices cost $1,500 and are the size of walkie-talkies.
Two of the devices were deployed in the sanctuary: one at the entrance and one near the altar. When churchgoers enter the sanctuary, the devices overwhelm the cell phone signals, producing garbled electronic noise. In a span of seconds, the phone begins to show that no signal is available.
Jamming cell phones is illegal in Mexico, the United States, and most western nations. However, government communications officials have looked the other way as churches have quietly and peacefully deployed the devices.
An official from the Federal Telecommunications Commission, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “This is a new thing, so there's no regulation specifically citing these devices," the official said. "But technically, the means by which signals are carried are the property of the nation. So if you interfere with them, you are in violation of the law."
Despite their legal dubiousness, word of the devices practicality has spread and three other churches have adopted the technology. The Rosario, San Juan Bosco, and Our Lady Queen of Angels churches have all purchased the jammers.
"The devices work very well," Carranza said. "They've brought quiet back to the temple."