World’s northernmost research settlement gets mobile phone service

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - November 27, 2023
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The mobile sender is in the same mast as the radio-link transmitters in Ny-Ålesund. Photo: Christian Skottun / Telenor

“It provides for increased safety and preparedness, and gives new opportunities for research and environmental monitoring in the Kongsfjorden area,” says head of Telenor at Svalbard, Christian Skottun, in a (mobile) phone interview from the Arctic archipelago.

Ny-Ålesund was originally built as a mining town, but is today solely a research settlement with the Norwegian Polar Institute as the main institution. Another 11 countries, among them China, India, South Korea and a number of European countries are present. Many with year-round activities.

“This is a big day for us,” says Lars Ole Saugnes, director of Kings Bay, the Norwegian state-owned company in charge of operating the settlement of Ny-Ålesund.

“Mobile coverage will enable us to take advantage of the benefits of mobile communication while increasing safety for everyone who lives here,” Saugnes states.

In addition to all scientists based in Ny-Ålesund, the settlement and Kongfjorden are popular among cruise ship operators sailing Svalbard and the west coast of the Spitsbergen island during the summers.

Providing mobile coverage for the settlement was easier said than done when Telenor more than 20 years ago started considerations.

“We began talks with Kings Bay back in 2001 about providing mobile coverage. There are many reasons why Ny-Ålesund first gets it now,” explains Bjørn Amundsen, head of coverage at Telenor.

“It is expensive to establish coverage here. It has also been important to adapt to all sensitive equipment so that they are not exposed to radio interference,” Amundsen says.

For this reason alone, it is not allowed to use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the settlement.

Everyone arriving at Ny-Ålesund will get an SMS informing them to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all devices they bring.

The transmitter provides for 4G network and is the northernmost mobile phone coverage in the world at nearly 79 Degrees North.

Mobile phone coverage is important for safety and preparedness at Svalbard. Here from a testing of signals in Billefjorden a few years back. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

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