Mountain climber Rod Baber is preparing for the climb of a lifetime and hoping to reach the summit of Mount Everest in late May or early June.
As well as preparing his body, the 36-year-old climber has also been preparing his equipment by testing a new Motorola cellphone that he will carry to the top to make a mobile voice call from there, as well as send text messages and pictures.
If successful, it will be the first time a cellphone call and text messages have been sent from the summit, Baber says. "Previously, [calls from the summit] have only been possible by use of satellite phones, which are expensive to use and heavy to carry," he said in an email.
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 summit. Motorola is the headline sponsor of the record attempt and is providing full financial and technical support throughout the expedition.
"The team at Motorola has provided me with a pointing device so I can operate the phone whilst wearing my equipment, and I will preprogram the number in as speed dials so I can just press one button to make calls/send texts, etc.," he says. "Pressure tests have confirmed this will not affect the use of the phone at [the summit]. 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 Four 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 acclimatised and stocking base camps with supplies, the final push to the top could take eight days, weather permitting.
Cellphone calls from Mount Everest have not been possible before because of the lack of cell infrastructure, he says. China Telecom only set up a cell tower in Rongbuk, about 1.5km 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 20km, so Motorola technical support teams in China have confirmed that a call should now be possible," he says.