Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Arctic reindeer herders are back in touch: How to reach a tundra dweller

Good old forgotten times

21 november 2023

Specialists from Novosibirsk State Technical University (NSTU) have begun developing short-wave communication for the needs of the Far North's reindeer herders. A method of communication that was lost in the 1990s will soon be revived—this time in a digital format. This is reported by Moskovsky Komsomolets, citing the university's press service. Engineers propose their version of a lightweight omnidirectional antenna for short-wave radios, which will enable communication with emergency services, government bodies or neighbouring nomadic groups.

The operation of shortwave radios is quite straightforward and has been in use since the early days of the last century. Radio waves ranging from 3 to 30 MHz, directed at an angle into the sky, can reflect or refract off charged atoms in the atmosphere 'beyond the horizon,' enabling long-distance information transmission. This is an inexpensive and reliable technology, gradually replaced by more advanced forms of communication like satellite broadcasting and mobile communications. However, in the Arctic, where mobile operator tower coverage is limited and satellites are often obscured by dense cloud cover, these old-fashioned methods are becoming relevant once again.

Experts suggest creating two types of devices—an antenna for upgrading existing equipment and a compact Russian digital radio station. Today, engineers from NSTU carried out field tests, choosing the best solutions from the current range of experimental devices and also coordinated it with the Angara-1M radio station provided by the Egorshinsky radio factory. As stated by Aleksey Vostretsov, the head of the university's Quantum Cryogenic Electronics Laboratory, efforts will soon be made to optimise the device for the extreme weather conditions of the Far North, and a user-friendly interface will be developed.

Lost connection

The urgency to revive the use of shortwave transmitters in the tundra has grown in recent years. Before satellite communications and mobile phones became prevalent, almost every camp had radio transmitters, a communication schedule and call signs. If a family or reindeer herding team was unable to establish contact, their neighbours would deliver messages to them. The main drawback of this system was the lack of privacy—simply tune in at the right time and you could hear all conversations. With the emergence of more private forms of communication, reindeer herders naturally transitioned to them, and radios were relegated to the 'dustbin of history.'

In 2022, the satellite communications provider Skytel (Globalstar) exited the Russian market, causing significant inconvenience for reindeer herders who were just moving their herds from winter pastures. As Kirill Istomin notes in his article, tundra dweller in the YNAA quickly switched to transmitting messages via those within the mobile coverage area. Mutual assistance in the Arctic is crucial, so even though it was delayed, the nomads were able to relay messages to each other. Nevertheless, this proved to be extremely inconvenient. In reality, reindeer herding teams cannot stay within the mobile tower coverage area for extended periods, and their absence can last several weeks. Some teams attempted to plan a route close to the towers, but according to them, this initiative was unsuccessful. Moreover, the involvement of third parties in message transmission once again deprived the reindeer herders of private communication.

So, currently in the tundra, connectivity is once again a concern. Certainly, Russia is actively developing its own programmes to provide Arctic coverage—the Federal State Unitary Enterprise Satellite Communications serves 409 vessels on the North Sea Route, and Roscosmos continues the Sphere project, aimed at both monitoring the planet's surface and providing Internet access and phone calls in the northernmost latitudes. However, ambitious domestic infrastructure projects still require time for development and implementation. Most of these are scheduled for implementation between 2025 and 2030, a period during which reindeer herders would prefer to live more comfortably. Therefore, the idea of reviving short-wave communication has once again become relevant and much quicker to implement—fortunately, the generation that experienced the dawn in a chum to the sound of a radio is still around and can help their children recall those times.

Read more Reindeer herding in the Russian Arctic: Making tradition profitable Ensuring social stability for indigenous peoples


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