Nepal will create free WiFi zones at the base camp of Mount Everest to facilitate communications from the world’s highest mountain and to aid rescue efforts in the event of any contingencies.
The base camp is located at the height of 5,360 metres (17,600 feet), making this the highest location at which free WiFi services will be available.
Some hotels and restaurants at the base camp offer users WiFi at a rate of up to $5 (Nepali Rs 537) per hour.
Nepal’s telecom service providers have extended mobile and landline services to the base camp, ending an era of expensive satellite phones, but it is still a distant dream to use mobile phones atop the 8,848-metre Everest, according to tourism entrepreneurs.
Himalayanglacier, a mountaineering news portal, said WiFi becomes more expensive as one ascends, along with services such as food and lodging.
“You can buy credits amounting to ½ GB of internet from Everest Link at around $8 in a place called Machermo. Once you reach the base camp, purchasing WiFi comes at a very high cost of around $5 per hour…,” it states.
Digambar Jha, chairman of state-run Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA), said in Kathmandu on Wednesday the regulator plans to set up free WiFi zones along the trials of Lukla-Everest Base Camp area and Annapurna Base Camp. “We will expand this service in other areas too,” he said.
Annapurna is also a popular attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of trekkers every year.
Jha said the WiFi service will operate on the “Okumura Model”, which uses low-cost optical fibre cables for high-speed internet. Special optical fibres resistant to extremely cold weather and icefall will be used for the service. “We have already discussed the project with the International Telecommunication Union, and they are also positive about providing such facilities,” he added.
Besides easing communication, tourists and other users can send photos, videos and messages that will help boost tourism, Jha said.
Accidents in the Everest region have become costly affairs for the government and tourism entrepreneurs because of the high altitude and problems associated with mounting rescue efforts in extreme climatic conditions. Such rescue missions are also hampered by the lack of proper communications.
If optical fibres do not work at high altitudes, other technologies such as micro-wave will be used to provide the WiFi service, officials said.
Earlier, private telecom operator Ncell had provided limited but paid internet services in the Everest region but they did not catch on.