Himalaya 2011: Everest Cell Network “Spotty”


Last fall a lot was made about Everest gaining 3G cell phone service, at least in Base Camp. The word was that cell tower was installed in the area, and we were promised all kinds of faster connections for data and voice. It all sounded good in theory, but it seems that in practice it isn’t quite living up to how it was billed. In one of his early dispatches on the trek to BC, Dave Hahn noted that the service was sketchy, even down in the Khumbu Valley.

Today, Explorers Web has an interesting post on the subject, fielding some reports from climbers as to what technology they’ll be taking with them to BC this year. It seems that many are bringing cell phones and sim cards with the hopes that they can stay more in touch with friends and family back home, but when they begin the climb, it’ll be back to good old fashioned, and semi-reliable, sat phones while on the mountain.

Reports from some of the Sherpas and trekkers who are already up to Gorak Shep, the last teahouse before Base Camp, and the site of the cell tower, say that the service was down for more than 24-hours yesterday. One climber, Seth Wolpin, brought his iPhone along, which has been having all kinds of issues. He was told that the iPhone was “too complicated” for the Ncell operated tower to handle, but as Seth noted, even the regular cell phones have been having issues. That’s a bit disheartening considering that there are few people in the area at the moment, so traffic on the network should be light. How bad will performance be once Base Camp gets busy, and a number of teams have downtime between their acclimatization treks.

It should also be noted that the tower is powered by a series of solar cells, and with the days being clear and sunny of late, it should have had plenty of power to keep the cell service up and running, so it seems as if there is something else to blame for the outages.

Obviously the cell towers that were constructed in the Khumbu were put there to help facilitate communications and make things safer in general, but so far it doesn’t seem to be all that reliable at all. I remember when I was there last year, normal cell phones seemed to work up until about Dengboche or so, and then it was really hit or miss as to whether or not you could place a call. Our guides knew the best places however, as they would pull out their phones at just the right time to call their girlfriends back in Kathmandu. It was especially funny on the descent, as they knew when their service would return. Seems like they’ll have to rely on those older, yet dependable, towers again this year.

Kraig Becker

2 thoughts on “Himalaya 2011: Everest Cell Network “Spotty””

  1. To be honest I was extremely happy to leave my cell behind for several weeks when I trekked in the region (and attempted Island Peak) a few years ago. It was a relief to me.

    But reconsidering this, I have to admit that this feeling might change if you're away for several months and if you're doing crazy or dangerous stuff…

  2. I agree. It is nice to turn off the tech for a few weeks when on a trip like that one. But, when you're on Everest, or one of the other big peaks, for two+ months, it is nice to hear from friends and family back home.

    Internet would be more important than voice for me!

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