Nyima, a villager in the village of Tashizom, is like mothers the world over. She wants to be sure she can keep tabs on her children, to know they are safe and cared for.
But this is a mother who lives thousands of metres above sea level, and whose neighbourhood is in sight of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, known in Tibet as Mount Qomolangma. For Nyima and many others in her village near the Mount Qomolangma Tourist Base Camp, phone calls, texts and video calls used to be sporadic and slow, often with no connection – or frame freezes when there was one.
That changed this year when Huawei and China Mobile rolled out their ultra-gigabit premium Wi-fi services and F5.5G FTTR-B (Fibre-to-the-Room Business) technology around the camp, located high in the mountains in the Tibet autonomous region.
FTTR was originally launched to enable home users to enjoy stable gigabit Wi-fi in all rooms. A technological innovation based on next-generation F5.5G networks, FTTR-B was jointly launched by China Mobile and Huawei to provide ultra-gigabit, all-optical networking for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in China, and is now widely used in hotels, shops and small campuses.
The Qomolangma National Park is not the kind of place you would normally find this type of technology. It is in one of the remotest parts of the world, and a reliable and fast internet service was needed to serve local businesses, wildlife conservationists and village communities.
For Nyima, the upgrade has been a game-changer, giving her peace of mind. “In the past, I couldn’t contact my kids when they were at school; I couldn’t find out how they were doing. Now, with the network, it has become much easier for us to stay in touch with each other.”
Each year, some 160,000 tourists travel to the base camp to see Mount Everest from the Chinese side. The camp is 5,200 metres (17,000 feet) above sea level, and visitors are lured by the majestic vistas and unspoiled surroundings. But sending photos and making video calls while sightseeing was often hampered by slow internet speeds and a poor signal.
Greeting these visitors is Zhang Chaofan, manager of Pingcuo Kangsang Everest Base Camp Oxygen-rich Hotel, situated 4,200 metres (14,000 feet) above sea level. He says it used to take one minute to load a webpage when registering guests. “When 10 to 20 people connected to the Wi-fi network at the same time within the hall, the connection at the front desk froze, or disconnected completely,” he says.
With the FTTR-B solution, the situation has improved dramatically. “Now the Wi-fi network can connect up to 300 people at the same time, and it doesn’t freeze anymore. It works very well.”
The faster and more stable Wi-fi service is also benefiting the region’s plant and animal life. Across pristine views, visitors glimpse herds of cows, deer and yaks – signs of the traditional agricultural lifestyle of the local people, who are increasingly switching to tourism and its supporting industries.
The management office of the base camp is responsible for the conservation of this area of the mountains. Its work includes daily monitoring and checking of environmental protection devices, and filing reports to the Mount Everest Administration Bureau in the form of videos, logs and high-resolution photos.
With the old internet system, the staff experienced poor network connections, slow uploads of videos and difficulty in sending documents. Tseten Choesang, an employee at Rongbuk Station, Mount Everest Administration Bureau, says the system requires a high-speed network to monitor the environmental indicators and manage tourists.
“The network connection used to be very poor. We couldn’t contact field staff from the management office. Now we can share information instantly,” he says.
The internet upgrade is just the start of a more ambitious project. In 2024, China Mobile and Huawei plan to extend the FTTR-B solution to trekkers and mountain climbers, providing a much-needed high-speed gigabit network for them to stay safely in contact with their families, friends and expedition organisers.
There has been a lot of positive feedback about the FTTR-B upgrade, not least from members of the China Mobile team: “I find my job quite hard, but what I’m doing has helped improve the signal and broadband network in this area,” says Kalsang Dorje, a China Mobile technical support employee.
His job of maintaining the base stations is a highly responsible one, and must be done at all times of the year and in the most extreme weather conditions. He conducts solo inspections of antennas mounted on the top of high masts, and must be ready to repair them if a fault develops. “It can’t wait. The repair can’t be delayed for any reason. I must restore communications as soon as possible.
“This has been very useful for my own family, and many other local people, too,” he adds. “They really need network connections, so they are very happy about the improvements. Even though I’m very tired after work, what I’m doing is definitely worth it.”