Nepali cell phone company Ncell announced this week that they have activated a cell tower in Mt. Everest base camp, providing reliable 3G coverage on the mountain for the first time. To commemorate the launch of the service, the technicians completed the highest altitude video call ever from 5300 meters (17,388 feet) on the mountain.
Ncell’s service will replace expensive, and often unreliable, satellite phones, which can be easily disrupted by bad weather and technical issues. Sat phones have been the defacto standard on Everest for years but the new cell service offers not only improved voice communications, but also a relatively speedy data connection all the way to the summit, located at 8849 meters (29,035 feet). That data connection will allow for photos, audio, and even video to be shared by climbers.
The new cell tower won’t just provide coverage for climbers and trekkers on and around Everest however. It will also give Nepali citizens living in the Khumbu Valley the ability to make phone calls for the very first time. The remote region has few modern conveniences, but in a country that only has cell coverage for about a third of its people, this is a big step forward for communications. Ncell, and it’s partner TeliaSonera, plan to spend about $100 million to expand coverage to 90% of Nepal’s population by the end of next year. Considering the challenges of travel in the Himalaya, that will be quite a feat.
It is impressive that visitors to Mt. Everest can now make a phone call, even while standing on the summit. Now if only AT&T could eliminate the dead zones in my home town. Then I’ll be really impressed.