The South Side is finally getting its ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi — at least two blocks of it

SHARE The South Side is finally getting its ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi — at least two blocks of it

Two community groups working to jump-start a delayed plan to roll out ultra-high-speed wireless Internet access throughout Chicago’s South Side will launch a Wi-Fi network in Woodlawn in mid-March, organizers said Wednesday.

Though the launch starts small — a free 50-megabit-per-second Wi-Fi connection in a two-block radius — the project has lined up router giant Cisco Systems and its cloud networking group, formerly called Meraki, to provide the connectivity “plumbing” for an eventual communitywide network.

The long-range vision is to support efforts to create a gigabit-speed fiber-optic and wireless network in as many as 15 innovation zones throughout the city, says Pierre A. Clark, who is spearheading the project as head of the Woodlawn Broadband Expansion Partnership and the Southside Broadband Expansion Collaborative.

In Woodlawn, the organizers hope to set up applications for telemedicine and neighborhood safety and communications. The telemedicine-telehealth project would let residents talk with their doctors by videoconference; a Web portal would enable them to quickly find neighborhood services; and a safety app would let them track and post crimes to identify hot spots that need help.

They also aim to link 100 families to the Wi-Fi network using computers and network devices built by Woodlawn students being trained by technologist Bernard Key and Key Link Technologies Ltd., a south suburban engineering design firm, and by the Chicago Digital Access Alliance.

The goal is to use the high-speed network to show how such Internet access can provide economic benefits to an underserved neighborhood such as Woodlawn, and to improve people’s quality of life.

The community groups first announced in January that they had developed an alternative plan to deploy the high-speed wireless network first in Woodlawn and ultimately to the South Side, aimed at a midspring launch.

Meanwhile, Gigabit Squared, the original company spearheading the project, issued a statement on Wednesday saying it remains “intensely focused on fulfilling our commitment to bring Gigabit-speed broadband to the South Side of Chicago.”

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