Mount Everest is now wired for voice and data, courtesy of Swedish telecom company TeliaSonera and Ncell, its Nepalese subsidiary. Ncell plans to extend mobile coverage to the majority of the country's population by the end of next year.
The 3G base stations in the Everest area-including one located at 17,000 feet-would give climbers the ability to place calls without a satellite phone, as well as surf the Web. TeliaSonera claimed in an Oct. 28 press release that calling rates would be cheaper than for "the average satellite phone."
"We are very proud to announce the world's highest mobile data service as we launch 3G services in the Mount Everest area in the Khumbu valley," Lars Nyberg, president and CEO of TeliaSonera, wrote in an Oct. 28 statement. "From its perch on the world's tallest mountain, 3G high speed Internet will bring faster, more affordable telecommunication services to the people living in the Khumbu Valley, trekkers and climbers alike."
Nyberg added: "This is a great milestone for mobile communications, and strong evidence of TeliaSonera's pioneering role in this industry that is truly changing the lives of billions of people."
Less than one-third of native Nepalese have access to telecommunications, according to TeliaSonera, up from around 15 percent in 2008. The company plans on investing an additional $100 million to expand the country's mobile coverage to 90 percent of the population by 2011.
Some 30,000 people visit the region every year, according to the Associated Press. Of those, hundreds climb at least some of Everest's intimidating slopes. Having 3G coverage could potentially help climbers react more quickly to the mountain's potentially hazardous shifts in wind and weather.
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa climber, were the first to officially reach Everest's summit in 1953. They carried ice axes and oxygen tanks but nothing capable of running an app.
Pasi Koistinen, Ncell's CEO, claimed in a BBC article that coverage would extend to the top of Everest's 29,029-foot peak. However, no climbers have verified that fact, at least not yet. That'll have to wait until the first person posts a Facebook or Foursquare update from the top of the world.