SOUTH SHORE — Veterans groups in South Shore were having a hard time getting vets connected to the internet, so they’ve brought in a military-grade solution.
Leave No Veteran Behind “cut the wire” Thursday on a new network that beams a high-speed wireless connection from a high rise in Hyde Park to Windsor Park Lutheran Church, 2619 E. 76th St., using the same technology the military uses to connect base camps in Afghanistan.
The veterans group has been providing job training at the church for six years and found that many of the 400 vets who completed the training were having a hard time finding access to a computer to apply for jobs or to go online to pay bills.
“Sometimes you can get to individuals before there’s a problem because there’s this lack of information, a lack of connectivity,” said William Williamson, president of the church’s board.
When the church started looking for a solution it found the military had already solved its problem.
The church has partnered with Cambium Networks to turn the steeple into a high-speed wi-fi hotspot with a five-mile radius.
The system of relays beams internet service from 1700 E. 56th St. and then bounces it off the steeple of the church to provide a second connection two blocks away at Rainbow Beach Sub Shop, 7520 S. Exchange Ave. It's the same equipment the Army and Navy use to keep base camps in Afghanistan wirelessly connected.
It’s cheap, with the equipment costing about $150 for the church and $100 for the restaurant, and quick to set up, according to the company that designed it and installed it at the church.
“Typically, we can set something like this up in a day,” said Ray Savich, marketing manager for Cambium Networks and who also served in the Navy.
He said the equipment is more often used in far-flung places of the world where it’s difficult to run cables for an internet connection. He said the same equipment was used to create a wi-fi signal on the entire island of Lesbos in Greece when there was an influx of Syrian refugees trying to connect with family back home or in other parts of Europe. He said that system took two days to set up.
Savich said he got a lot of questions from engineers at the company about why they were deploying this technology in the middle of a developed American city.
“When I was talking to people at work they said, ‘Why can’t people just go to Starbucks?’” Savich said. “I had to explain there is no Starbucks to go to.”
For the church, which has been testing the network for 15 months before announcing the full implementation on Thursday, it’s been a huge help.
Seniors in the congregation that are living on a fixed income are able to log-on to the church’s network without adding a cable or phone account, young people can use the network on one of 20 laptops donated to the church for homework when the library isn’t an option, and veterans and people visiting the church’s food bank can use it to apply for jobs without worrying about the connection timing out.
The church has also added two security cameras that can be controlled remotely, which Williamson said has helped people feel more safe coming to the church.
The church plans to expand its network in the coming months to include a nearby community garden, where the network equipment will be powered by solar panels.
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