Airplanes have Wi-Fi nowadays, so why shouldn’t the world’s tallest mountain be 3G-capable? A Nepali telecom company called Ncell announced yesterday that Mount Everest now has a live GSM 3G network following Ncell’s installation of a 3G base station. The company inaugurated the new network by making “the world’s highest video call” from 17,388 feet, where climbers begin the ascent to the peak of Mount Everest.
While the nascent 3G network might sound like a mere plaything for Everest mountaineers, it’s actually meant to serve an important function: Bringing mobile phone service and mobile Internet service to Nepal. Currently, only a third of Nepal gets any mobile signal, and only two percent of the population is connected to the Internet.
The Financial Times has more on the history of mobile in the region and the challenges inherent in setting up the 3G base station:
Three years ago China Mobile erected a voice-only transmission station on Everest, which straddles Nepal and Tibet. The high-altitude station made it possible to make calls along the climbing route.
[Ncell parent company] TeliaSonera had to overcome a harsh environment of freezing temperatures and no electricity supply.
The Everest mobile base station, which costs about four times as much as a mobile base station in less challenging terrain, is entirely powered by solar energy. It has to be maintained at an altitude where the thin air makes it a struggle for humans to breathe.
Note that the peak of Everest does not have mobile signal yet; that’ll be a challenge for some future wave of telecoms.
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