The Broadband Revolution Hits Everest

ncell billboard

The Ncell billboard turns out to be surprisingly accurate—minus the business suit.     Photo: Grayson Schaffer

Ncell's USB Wi-Fi antenna brings 3G service all the way to Base Camp.

Until the 1970s and '80s, most Everest expeditions included two porters who did nothing but run mail dispatches from Base Camp to the nearest village. No longer. This year, multiple climbers at Base Camp are snapping photos on their iPhones and sharing them through Instagram and Facebook in real time.

That's possible because of Nepal's dominant cell phone service, Ncell. In 2010, the provider announced plans to bring 3G coverage all the way to Mount Everest. Now it's here and changing the way teams operate. While members of the Eddie Bauer West Ridge Expedition still brought along a BGAN satellite modem, at $6 per megabyte to use, it's mostly used as backup. The team has been making calls from Base Camp at just four cents per minute.

For laptop users, there's an even cooler toy: Ncell's USB Wi-Fi antenna. It's the same size as a memory stick but takes a sim card and magically endows any computer with 3G. Before I came out here, the guys in the shop told me it would transmit data up the Khumbu Valley as a 10-minute walk from Base Camp. Consider that confirmed. I use it everyday to file my reports.

The card runs about $30 and the plan—I got five gigabytes of data—is another $30. Pick up the gear in Nepal at the Ncell store, a couple of blocks from the Yak & Yeti hotel. Just remember to bring your passport and a passport photo to the store. You'll need them to register.

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