High Altitude Communication System

In Himalayan mountain climbing, communication is of the utmost importance, because the activity is a cooperative game.

It takes 2 to 5 days of climbing up to the top of the mountain and 1 to 2 days of climbing down from the top of the mountain to the base camp, so meeting connections are not always possible. In addition to the base camp, C1 to C4 camps will be built on the slopes of the mountain, with daily communication between them.

The sensors of the mountain weather services are partly in airplanes and the services are in Europe, so versatile and verified message connections are needed to transmit weather information. The weather on the mountainside could be sunny and warm or a deadly storm. Messaging connections are needed to organize and coordinate SAR or Search and Rescue activities. SAR activity is divided into Air Rescue and Land Rescue, i.e. helicopter and mountain climbing rescue.

Communication connections are also needed for media and marketing activities, which is the focus of building internet satellite connections. After three years, Everest’s C3 camp (7100 m) will have an internet satellite connection, which means you can follow the mountain climbing in real time.

Messaging connections in the base camp also enable handling work and everyday practical matters with the operator, as well as keeping in touch with family and friends.

High Altitude Communications System

The picture shows the communication connections on the Himalayan mountain. In practice, communication takes place in three different places: in the upper mountains, in the base camp and in Europe. Message connections are based on four different technologies: satellite connections, internet connections, radio telephone connections and meeting connections. In addition, the WLAN and Bluetooth connections of the local area networks support the devices.

All communication connections have their own advantages: Satellite connections always work everywhere, the internet network has the most versatile services, radio telephone connection is the fastest and in real time, and the meeting connection best conveys the true feeling and performance of a mountaineer. All devices require electricity. Base camp and C2 camp at an altitude of 6,400 meters have solar panels to charge power banks and communication devices. However, all devices weigh. Only the Garmin inReach mini (100 g) and a satellite phone (200 g) come with the top. inReach proves that Garmin MapShearch proves that you have been to the top along with photos, and you can call home and friends with a satellite phone.

In the basic camp, the use of computers and smartphones is emphasized in managing work, media and social relations. Internet access is currently available at the base camp, but it is expensive. Operational message connections are handled by radio telephone connections and inReach + smartphone messages.

On the other hand, it is good that the message connections are verified, but you have to understand how the technology works and what its limitations are. If necessary, the contact person in Finland or at the base camp can, for example, update Facebook or the website.

Before the communication devices are used, you have to get a device, 1-2 SIM cards, learn how to use it, share numbers/radio frequencies, charge the batteries, agree on communication and understand the satellite positions and the different circadian rhythm in Europe.

Garmin inReach mini satellite device

The highly popular Garmin satellite emergency device Garmin inReach mini is an orange block weighing only 100 grams, which is easy to take with you wherever you go. The device includes an SOS button under the shell and a global rescue service. However, from above 7000 meters you have to climb down. The device saves a track with the Track function, which can be followed via the web browser’s Garmin MapShare function. The function is useful for the Search function of the SAR service, when the person to be rescued needs to be located. Track records position and altitude every 2 or 10 minutes. inReach includes a TrackBack function, which is very useful in WhiteOut (cloud/fog) or darkness. When leaving and en route, save a few Waypoints and turn on the Navigation function at the same time, so you can return the same route if necessary.

I only discovered the device’s best messaging feature a few days ago. In addition to the 23 pre-installed emergency messages, the device can send SMS messages and e-mail via satellite connection. It’s really slow and difficult to write with a small device, you can practically only do it in a tent without gloves. However, the Garmin Earhmate application can be installed on the phone, which works with the Garmin inReach device via Bluetooth connection. In practice, you can use your phone to send SMS messages around the world via the Garmin inReach device’s satellite connection to the Internet to another phone. inReach and phone are an unbeatable pair in the high Himalayas or at sea.

Garmin inReach devices can be managed via the web browser’s control panel, where you can select the service level, specify contact persons and adjust settings, as well as select the level of the rescue service. Garmin’s product is really good, most certainly of all devices, minus the expensive operating costs and the somewhat illogical menu of the device.

Thuraya XT-PRO Dual satellite phone

I was lucky when I found Thuraya’s new satellite phone for 500 euros on my way back from Sodankylä. The 1,300-euro device is convenient thanks to two SIM cards. In addition to the SAT-SIM card, you should put a local GSM-SIM card in it, so that calls can be made conveniently either via an internet connection or a satellite connection. Different satellite phone operators have different numbers of satellites at different altitudes, and the Arab Thuraya’s satellite network is the most comprehensive and works almost everywhere in the world, except for the United States.

Call prices have come down and calls to Finland cost €1.5/min. I send the messages on a smartphone with a local SIM card, if necessary through an inReach device, so they are free and easier to write than on a satellite phone.

The satellite phone has a pull-out antenna, which in Nepal must be aimed at the south-eastern sky during the call. If you turn during a call, the satellite poles on the phone screen will decrease and the call may end. In the wind of the mountains, wired headphones are handy, because the volume can’t be loud enough otherwise.

The satellite phone weighs only 200 grams and you can use it to call home or friends from the top of the mountain. As an emergency service connection, the satellite phone acts as a backup connection for the radio phone. A walkie-talkie is faster and more convenient if the range is enough. Thuraya XT-PRO Dual has a convenient size, the screen is good and the dual SIM is convenient. However, the phone is not a smartphone, but a decent Nokia phone that works like a train toilet. A touchscreen might not work on top of a mountain with gloves on. You can press the keys with a pen while wearing gloves and send greetings to your friends.

Lafayette Smart BT radio phone

I compared radio telephones online and noticed that hunting and marine radio frequencies have a longer range and higher power (5W) than radio telephones intended for hobby use. In Finland, a separate permit procedure is no longer needed to obtain a more efficient radio telephone. In addition, I discovered that hunting and marine radio phones work in different radio frequency ranges, so I had to choose which radio frequency range radio phone to get. I ended up with a hunting radio frequency radiotelephone, as I assumed different frequencies were used in the mountains than at sea.

The French Lafayette is a long-term test success and the latest model has a Bluetooth connection. Even after a short use, I can’t say about the device’s suitability for mountain use. I miss a slightly longer range and the possibility to set the radio frequency instead of channels. It may also be due to the user that I haven’t enabled all the features yet.

However, the radio telephone connection is the primary connection in the mountains from the mountains to the base camp and between the base camps. Real time, ease of use and free calls are a plus. Due to the 300-350 gram weight of the radio, I don’t carry it above 7,000 meters, because you have to come down there anyway on your own feet. The radio telephone can be used to inform several users about an accident or a rescue mission at the same time. On the other hand, it does not allow for private calls and requires radio control, which here at Everest Seven Summit Treks seems to work well.

The radiotelephone connection is limited by various terrain obstacles, which are few on the mountainside, unless the mountain itself gets between the radiotelephones. If necessary, radiotelephone and user network can be used to transmit messages if the distances become long, but it is not an optimal solution.

iPhone 12 smart phone

The quality of the phone is surprisingly important in the mountains. My previous phone, the iPhone SE, froze on top of the Matterhorn when I was taking the top photo in 2019. Fortunately, my friend had a better frost-resistant smartphone, so the top photos were not missed. In the Alps, emergency service connections work largely through smartphones, because the phone network is practically everywhere. The phone’s frost resistance is the most important feature in the mountains of the Alps.

After the trip, I read the tests and Apple had appropriately released the first frost-resistant phone that doesn’t turn off when you take it out of your pocket, just like the iPhone SE. Among the other features of the phone, the most important are lightness (200 g), shock resistance and good camera features. In addition, the use of various weather and training applications is necessary, but they can be downloaded for all the latest phones.