C Spire’s efforts to increase broadband coverage across Mississippi haven’t taken a backseat to COVID-19. In fact, our network team has stepped up to provide internet access in more places than ever so Mississippians can stay connected to school, work, friends and family.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) moved quickly to set up a large outdoor testing facility at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson. As a partner with UMMC on the C Spire Health app, C Spire’s network team immediately got in touch to see how they could help.
“We knew they would need communications infrastructure to run the site, so we got an idea of what they needed and went back to the network team and came up with a solution,” said Mitchell Jordan, senior manager of RF engineering at C Spire.
“There was basically no connectivity at this location. It's in the middle of a big parking lot. They had no way of getting connectivity except through cell phones.”
First, the network team tapped the fiber backhaul from a nearby cell site and used it to deliver bandwidth for UMMC to aid efforts at the main testing facility. Then they were able to essentially replicate the UMMC network in the field, connecting all their computers, printers and other devices, so it was like them logging into their corporate network remotely through the C Spire network.
But the team didn’t stop there. C Spire network engineers have since outfitted all of UMMC’s temporary testing facilities around the state with enhanced LTE mobile coverage.
“I take a lot of pride in our team,” said RF design engineer Matthew Winters, “because any time they came and asked us, ‘Hey, can you do this location?’ we would get it up in a day. So we started thinking, how else can we use this?”
The COVID-19 crisis has brought Mississippi’s broadband challenges to the forefront. Currently ranked forty-ninth in broadband coverage in the U.S., 30 percent of the state lacks broadband internet coverage.
Finding adequate internet can be a challenge for that 30 percent on most days, but with public WiFi locations like libraries closed under social distancing policies, it’s virtually impossible. That leaves students who are tasked with distance learning but lack reliable high-speed internet access at home in a tough spot.
Many C Spire retail locations turned out to be a perfect match.
“We took the fiber that runs to these select stores and figured out how we could broadcast the signal not only in the store but outside the store so people could drive up and use the WiFi for school, homework or emails,” Winters added.
These pop-up locations around the state provide a way for students to continue learning safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and parents can park their vehicle and log onto complimentary high-speed WiFi to help them work on school assignments.
“Now we're going to churches where we have fiber or other backhaul circuits already built and setting up a similar configuration, so the congregation and the surrounding neighborhood can pull up and take care of their essential internet needs," said Winters.