Mt. Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries,” according to the U.N., which made it a World Heritage Site this year.
But now Japan’s famous snow-capped peak has another bragging right: It’s got 4G coverage on the peak.
Japanese telecom company NTT DoCoMo has outfitted the summit with super-fast LTE connectivity from now until the end of August — peak tourist time for the mountain. It has had cell coverage since 1999, and DoCoMo added 3G coverage in 2005.
The system, which consists of cell towers and a fleet of 30 truck-based LTE stations that can create or boost signals, makes Mount Fuji one of the most connected sites in the world, but it’s not the only big mountain to have cell connection. Parts of North America’s Mt. Rainier have consistent cell coverage from major carriers, Vodacom offers cell coverage on and around parts of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and the highest point of coverage is at Mount Everest base camp facilitated by China Mobile. Cell coverage is still uncommon on most mountains, but popular and high-trafficked areas are getting more connected as time goes on.
Alpine Ascents is a Seattle-based climbing tour company that leads trips to some of the most intimidating peaks in the world. The company’s program director, 22-year mountaineering veteran Gordon Janow, says that while some mountains are starting to get cellular coverage, it’s still not prevalent and certainly not a reliable communication device for mountaineering guides.
“If you’re in a sleeping bag at night and you want to post a picture, you probably can,” Janow explains. “But we can’t use it as a primary source of contact.”
Many mountaineering guides carry around satellite phones, which have greater and more consistent coverage in remote areas, to communicate with base camp in case of emergencies. Even older communications systems like radios are more prevalent than using a cell phone for contacting. “I couldn’t feel good knowing that all I have is a cell phone,” Janow says. “I even have a radio that can attach to a repeater that makes a phone call — it’s not always a satellite phone, but I always have something else.”
That said, phones are so prevalent and light, that climbers and guides usually bring them along, he says. Many use them to take pictures, take notes for blog posts, or even get in contact with someone once they’re back at base camp.
Of course, the downside to all of this connectedness and convenience, Janow says, is the inability to disconnect. Mountaineering has traditionally been a solitary or small group experience, and the accessibility of cell phones and network coverage opens it up to the greater world. In that way, the trips have changed.
“The length of time between what you and the mountains are doing has gotten a lot shorter,” Janow says. “What was once three days without any contact has turned into 12 hours.”