Climbers can now enjoy 3G voice and data coverage on Everest, extending up to its summit, courtesy of a Swedish-owned telecom.  (Source: AFP)

The coverage will also be a great boost to the impoverished Nepalese locals.  (Source: Gear Junkie)
Smartphone users can take a break from a long day of climbing and check their email

Things sure have changed since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.  Nepalese telecom group Ncell, a subsidiary of Swedish phone giant TeliaSonera, claims that it has transformed the summit of Everest into the world's highest wireless internet hot spot.

Mount Everest is an awe-inspiring peak, the world's tallest mountain above sea level.  Its elevation measures 8,848 meters (29,029 ft), as does its prominence.  Located in the Himalayas along the Nepal (Sagarmatha Zone)-China (Tibet) border, the peak has been climbed by many adventurers since 1953, some of which even made the ascent without oxygen. 

As of 2008 approximately 2,700 people had made approximately 4,100 ascents to the summit.  It costs over $25,000 for the permit to attempt an ascent.  To date 219 people are known to have perished attempting the climb.  In a gruesome reminder of these failed attempts, current climbers often see the corpses of the deceased, many of which have been left in place.

Now the climbers will have a much happier sight to comfort them in their trek -- mobile internet.  Before climbers largely relied on satellite phones on Everest, but these devices can be extremely expensive -- especially for data -- and sometimes don't work due to line-of-sight issues.  The China-facing slope has been partially covered by China Mobile since 2007, but that coverage was voice only.

The new service from Ncell may seem merely like a publicity stunt, but it will likely be helpful to climbers in case of an accident.  Ncell has set up coverage originating from a series of eight base stations, going up to a station situated at 5,200 meters (17,000 ft) near the tiny Gorakshep village.  Four of these stations are solar powered.

Lars Nyberg, chief executive of TeliaSonera, which owns 80 percent of Ncell hailed the achievement, stating, "This is a great milestone for mobile communications as the 3G high speed internet will bring faster, more affordable telecommunication services from the world's tallest mountain."

Ncell Nepal chief Pasi Koistinen, speaking to reporters in Kathmandu added, "Today we made the (world's) highest video call from Mount Everest base camp successfully.  The coverage of the network will reach up to the peak of the Everest."

Based on Mr. Koistinen's statements, it appears the summit will be covered, though it's unclear how much of the mountain face will be covered by the installed infrastructure at the base stations.

The coverage will be equally valuable to local people as it is to climbers.  Despite the draw of having some of the world's tallest peaks, Nepal is among the world's poorest nations.  Current cell phone infrastructure only covers a third of the nation's 28 million people, most of whom live a largely subsistence lifestyle.  TeliaSonera wants to invest $100M USD to bump this coverage up to 90 percent.  With the addition of its new Everest network, the company now has Nepal's greatest percent coverage, ahead of state-run Nepal Telecom, Indian-owned United Telecom and China Mobile.

TeliaSonera already held the distinction of offering the world's lowest altitude cell phone service, offering 3G coverage in a European mine that measures 1,400 meters (4,595 feet) below sea level.

Aside from their pristine beauty, recent melting in the Himalayas has brought them to the center of the global warming controversy.  Some are claiming that the change is atypical and caused by humans, while others attributed the melting trend to natural variations in the Earth's climate.  Climate skeptics are sure to note the fact that early claims about Himalayan melting rates made by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were shown to be exaggerated, forcing the partial retraction of a major warming report.

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