When a country’s population of 57,000 people can fit into a football stadium but is scattered in small communities around the coasts of Greenland, telecommunication challenges arise. That’s one of the reasons why Greenland has around 60 sites scattered mostly along the country’s west coast. It’s also why TELE-POST has people like Hartvig.
A site visit is all in a day’s work for Hartvig, who literally spends his professional life on inaccessible mountain peaks. A gentle and quiet Greenlander, Hartvig’s position is Electrical Advisor, but it might as well be Flying Tele Warrior. He is one in a team of 8 technicians who set up and maintain the 60 sites dotted around the country. Hartvig and his team work at sites so often that few colleagues at TELE-POST know where they are.
There’s lots of maintenance work to be done. On this occasion, Hartvig and his coworker are refueling the generators. The operation is in close cooperation with an experienced Air Greenland pilot, who first drops off personnel, then flies back and forth with cargo loads each containing 700 kilo drums of petrol. As the helicopter transitions from being a blip in the sky to a powerful hovering force, Hartvig helps the pilot to unload the sling by directing with hand signals. Sometimes it appears that the pilot maneuvers an almost sideways hover to release the helicopter’s cargo. Once the drum is securely placed onto land, the Tele technicians begin the process of fueling. They then wait for the pilot to return with the next load. They do this exercise a total of sixteen times over two full days. Detailed logistical planning, coordination, patience and good weather is required. These sites, including Qingaaq, contain power stations that supply among other things the ever growing demand for internet and connectivity in Greenland.
One pays dearly for internet up in the Arctic, but it seems that Greenland’s residents want connection no matter the cost. In fact, there are 61,700 mobile subscriptions in Greenland, which is more than the population of the country itself. There’s no doubt that internet is getting faster and cheaper. However, little do most of the population know that TELE-POST technicians are spending days on end working in the remotest of locations so that the masses can comfortably surf the internet at home. Many people, even in Greenland, safely assume that internet and telephone connection can be fixed (fast) in today’s hyperconnected world. Things can get much more complicated in the Arctic…
TELE-POST provides three different connectivity infrastructure models – digital radio, marine cable and satellite service. Each service has its own challenges, but Hartvig and his Tele Warrior companions are ready to rumble within one hour if ever there is a major breakdown that affects connection. He will tell you that it is not quite as simple as flying in, performing an analysis and then out again. During Greenland’s long winter, there are days with few hours of optimal light conditions. One particularly snowy year, a technician had to dig ten metres deep down into the snow just to reach the door. He then faced the challenge of unlocking a door set in the deep freeze. Sometimes, a problem affects more than one site, so technicians have to ‘mountain hop’ using Air Greenland’s helicopters. Bad weather or technical problems can also mean that you can get stuck at sites for days on end. This is the reason why each site has a cabin in case of emergencies. Dried food is always packed too. Just in case. One has to be level-headed to survive in the job. To be ready for anything at any given crisis. Yet, also be ready to wait and do nothing. It is a test of mental strength when you are stranded in a small, confined place for an unknown length of time. In this case at least there is wifi on these hilltop sites – and a view that would top the list for #cabinporn!
THE LENGTHS TELE-POST WILL GO TO GET INTERNET CONNECTION
There is currently broadband internet service in the major towns of Nuuk and Qaqortoq, but even in remote settlements one can use a telephone and internet. Hunters who lead traditional lifestyles in faraway communities also utilise the wonders of modernity: from communicating and navigating with satellite technology in places without mobile connection, to celebrating catches by taking selfies and posting them on Facebook when they return home.
TELE-POST has an ambitious mandate of improving telecommunications for all residents: one of their primary goals is to give 92% of Greenland’s people high-speed internet within the next few years. There are large plans underway with a sea cable project that extends cable internet from Nuuk to Aasiaat via Maniitsoq and Sisimiut. In addition to the sea cable, there is already work underway to establish a high-capacity radio chain from Aasiaat to Qasigiannguit and Ilulissat, as well as to extend the current radio chain from Uummannaq to Upernavik. The whole project aims to improve telecommunications for 20,000 citizens. There will be a whole lot of people used to slow internet who will not know what hit them!
Back at Qingaaq, the sun is shining and the wind is so still. The fueling continues and is set to finish on schedule. On days like this, it’s not a bad gig to work on top of a mountain. If only the conditions were always so optimal! Perhaps next time your internet connection is slow and you yell in frustration, take a breath and remember that you are the lucky one in the comfort of your own home. Just remember that there might be a few Tele Warriors stuck on a mountain top somewhere in Greenland, doing the best to get you back up and running.