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December 18, 2013

Communication tech on Antarctic trek is ‘testimony’ to Arqiva

Walking with the Wounded charity trek immensely aided by sat phones and data systems.

By Claire Vanner

Friday 13th December was a red letter day for numerous people involved in one immense challenge as a group of true survivors reached the South Pole.

Three teams of wounded service personnel took part in the Walking with the Wounded’s charity Virgin Money South Pole Challenge in a race to ninety degrees south.

Unfortunately, due to adverse weather conditions, the race was abandoned, but all three teams, which included expedition patron Prince Harry, reached the South Pole safely.

This was thanks in large part to the help of the communications and data services provided to them by Arqiva. Not only did the satellite phones help to communicate through the storms and help to seek out help when team members needed medical attention, it also provided them with a line of communication back to the rest of the world.

Thanks to Arqiva, Prince Harry was able to transmit the following message: "We’re here I am about 10 meters away from the Pole. Everyone is sort of scattered now, we’ve been here for about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. It’s an amazing feeling it really is."

Peter McCormick, corporate responsibility program manager at Arqiva, was heavily involved in the organisation and preparation for the expedition. Following the success of the mission, despite the harsh weather conditions, he reflects on how the communications technology helped the teams to achieve their goal:

Q: Did the communications technology perform as expected?

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A: Yes definitely; both the voice and data systems performed as expected, as well as the hardware which had been purpose built for the harsh conditions the expedition faced. In addition, the network coverage and quality of the communications sent to us was of the high standard we had expected. The SOS functionality was tested at the beginning of the expedition and was thankfully not required.

Q: Did the harsh weather conditions have any adverse affects?

A: We knew even before departure that the batteries on the satellite phones had a significantly reduced life expectancy. The teams were able to maintain the battery life by keeping them close to their bodies for heat at night and through re-supply of fresh batteries from the support vehicles. The soldiers’ iPods used during the long days of skiing also suffered from the same physical phenomenon.

Q: How did the team’s benefit from the communications on the trip?

A: The expedition was delayed at the start due to adverse weather and there were several instances of medical attention being required during the first phases of the expedition. The voice communications truly enabled quick and effective command and control of the rapidly changing situations. The video and still imagery functionality also performed well in support of one of the key objectives of the expedition; to raise awareness of what can be achieved despite any setbacks individuals may face.

Q: Was the functionality as successful as you hoped it would be?

A: That the expedition manager and teams were able to capture and transmit voice communications, videos and still imagery back to their friends and family is testimony of the overall success of what can be achieved through our technology.

Q: How would you rate the overall experience in using the technology?

A: For Arqiva, receiving and distributing the video and still images back home was a seamless task. But we could not have managed it without Victoria Nicholson on the expedition who was capturing and transmitting the stories back home to us, as well as managing other significant tasks for the expedition, all from the back of a congested 4×4 under difficult physical conditions. There must have been times of frustration in the harsh weather but others joyous knowing everyone back home was able to support them on the journey. Such are the experiences of expedition life!

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