London mountaineer Rob Baber is working with Motorola to become the first person to make a mobile phone call and send text messages from the summit of Mount Everest.
"Previously, [calls from the summit] have only been possible by use of satellite phones, which are expensive to use and heavy to carry," he explained.
Baber is testing the Motorola Z8, due to launch in Europe in May, but it is not being ruggedised in any manner to withstand the extreme cold or low pressure at the 29,035-foot summit. Motorola is the headline sponsor of the record attempt and is providing full financial and technical support throughout the expedition, Baber and the company said.
"The team at Motorola has provided me with a pointing device so I can operate the phone whilst wearing my equipment, and I will preprogramme the number in as speed dials so I can just press one button to make calls/send texts, etc.," he said. "Pressure tests have confirmed this will not affect the use of the phone at 8,848 meters.
The battery is a key component and the one thing that will be affected by the conditions. The key challenge is to keep the batteries well insulated and warm on the mountain."
The lightweight plastic pointing device to use the phone's buttons will be crucial. "Gloves will stay on at all times," he said. "Less than 60 seconds' exposure of the skin can cause frostbite." To keep his text messages timely, he will write them from Camp 4 below the summit and store them in a draft section of the device to be able to send them easily from the summit, where he will linger only briefly. After many weeks of getting his body acclimated and stocking base camps with supplies, the final push to the top could take eight days, weather permitting.
Mobile phone calls from Mount Everest have not been possible before because of the lack of cell infrastructure, he said. China Telecom only set up a cell tower in Rongbuk, about a mile from the base camp, last year. "So this is technically the first year any summit calls can be attempted to be made. Line of site from the summit is 20 kilometers, so Motorola technical support teams in China have confirmed that a call should now be possible," he said.
The mobile phone will help with the psychological demands of climbing, as much as it will offer a chance to test new technology. "I'll be using the phone to generally keep in touch and share my experiences," he said. "I have a young family, so I will be keeping in touch with them regularly, as well as the team at Motorola. It is of great comfort to know I can easily reach people when I need to."
Baber wants to climb Everest partly to raise money for the Cobalt Appeal Trust, which is devoted to helping cancer patients. "Both my parents have just survived cancer treatment, so it is a charity I have a direct relationship with. I also love a challenge, and as a mountaineer, Everest has always been on the top of my list for new challenges."
Baber set a Guinness World Record in 2000 for ascending the highest summits of all 47 European countries in the shortest time, a period of 835 days. While a serious climber, he tempers his philosophy about climbing with humor: "Without great risk, there is no great gain... Onwards and upwards, and occasionally sideways!"
Baber hopes to reach the summit in late May or early June.