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Disaster Tech Lab brings emergency internet to refugee camps

Voluntary organisation Disaster Test Lab deploys ruggedised Cradlepoint technology to provide mobile connectivity to 18 refugee camps in Greece

Ireland-based charity Disaster Tech Lab has deployed rugged network units to provide 3G, 4G and 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity services at 18 refugee camps in Greece, to support both the work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the refugees themselves.

Disaster Tech Lab has a long history of providing emergency communications networks in humanitarian disaster zones.

This includes deploying personnel and equipment to Liberia during the recent Ebola outbreak, to Pacific island state Vanuatu in the wake of a devastating cyclone, and to the US after Hurricane Sandy struck the New York area in 2012.

For modern-day refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict in Syria, mobile is essential for staying in touch with and locating friends and family who are making the same perilous journey, and those left behind in the war zone.

“After a harrowing journey, refugees arrive in Greece usually in poor health and estranged from their loved ones,” said Disaster Tech Lab CEO Evert Bopp.

“They often don’t even know which country they’ve arrived in and are then faced with navigating the appropriate authorities and their respective procedures to claim asylum. This is hard enough, but when you consider there’s no infrastructure to support them, it seems like an impossible task,” he said.

Disaster Tech Lab turned to Cradlepoint to deploy open Wi-Fi networks for refugees relying on smartphone technology.

It has deployed a number of COR IBR1100 compact, ruggedised 3G/4G/LTE routers to provide cloud-managed networking services. The network is being managed through a cloud management portal that lets Disaster Tech Lab monitor and troubleshoot on the ground.

Read more about emergency networking

“When I was contacted and told about the lack of internet access in refugee camps, I knew we had to help. We often provide connectivity in remote or extreme environments for customers,” said Cradlepoint Europe, Middle East and Africa vice-president, Hubert Da Costa.

“However, never before have we provided connectivity to a community who would rely on it for their basic existence,” he added.

With many of the camps lacking electricity infrastructure, the charity has also supplied solar panels, batteries and wind turbines to keep the network ticking over.

“There’s barely any sanitation in these camps, let alone electricity and Wi-Fi provision. Providing reliable and robust 3G and 4G LTE connectivity is often a lifeline, quite literally,” added Bopp.

Meanwhile, a second network is being used to provide internet access in vehicles used by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the UNHCR in Greece. 

It is also providing separate, password-encrypted networks for those working inside the camps, allowing the UNHCR, charity workers and the Greek military to communicate and process asylum applications securely using biometrics.

The network supports the work of the Greek government, which requires new arrivals to make their initial application to the Greek authorities using Skype.

“Cradlepoint’s technology enables us to almost immediately set up a temporary internet service while we work on building a more permanent network. Cradlepoint’s COR IBR1100 is so easy to use and durable. We can get connectivity available in a couple of hours of refugees arriving at a new location,” said Bopp.

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