Thousands of refugees set up in a camp near the Greek village of Idomeni now have free access to Wi-Fi, thanks to an enterprising electrical engineer named Ilias Papadopoulos. Concerned that these people had no means of communicating with their loved ones either at home or waiting for them in other countries, he built a Wi-Fi station inside an old trailer, in September last year.
Papadopoulos got the idea for providing the refugee camp with free Wi-Fi when he first visited Idomeni in August to see if he could be of any help. The village is an hour’s drive away from the city of Thessaloniki, where Papadopoulos lives. When he arrived at the camp, he realised that most refugees had smartphones, but none of them had access to SIM cards or an internet connection. He realised that communication was very critical for the refugees, so he set about building a Wi-Fi station from scratch.
In the next few weeks, Papadopoulos spent 5,000 euros of his own money to gather all the materials he needed to build a self-sustaining Wi-Fi hub. He installed solar panels that power the hub and recharge two high-capacity batteries during the day. The batteries are used to run the hub at night. He set up a used laptop to serve as the control panel, while two ADSL lines provide a slow, yet reliable connection. Papadopoulos revealed that he’d much rather have used VDSL connections, which are a lot faster, but the village simply doesn’t have that kind of connectivity.
The connection is fed to eight different access points – domed white discs that glow green (single-band) or blue (dual-band) – across the camp. Papadopoulos chose both, because the smartphones used by refugees range from very basic models that can only access single-band connections, to the most advanced, which can access dual-band. And he wanted as many people as possible to have access.
There are limits, though. An access point can handle only 120 users at one point, and the entire system can handle only 960 connections. But the number of the refugees in Idomeni ranges around 15,000. This makes the connection slow and choppy during the day, but it works better at night when most people switch off their devices. And the refugees are really happy about just having access, even though the connection is mostly poor.
“He’s a lifesaver,” a Syrian refugee named Yazan said, speaking to Mashable. Sinan, a refugee from Iraq, added that everyone is “using Wi-Fi to connect to their relatives because most families scattered because of the wars in their home countries.”
Given the success of his first Wi-Fi station, Papadopoulos now wants to install similar systems in other camps. For now, he’s trying to find sponsors to fund his project.