Mobile Network Coverage In Mongolia


The night before the ride to White Lake in Mongolia I called my wife from my hotel in Ulaanbataar and told her that in all probability I would not be contactable for the next seven days. I would be venturing into the vast steppes of Mongolia and staying at ger camps in remote locations. I ended the call with “I’ll see you after a week.”

The next day we stopped for rest in the middle of nowhere and I was surprised to see that my phone had network coverage. It even had a data connection. And not just an ordinary Edge connection, but high-speed 3G. The same thing happened when we stopped again in the middle of nowhere for lunch. And again at the ger camp that we stayed that night.

On each and every evening of the seven day ride I spoke to my family using Facetime. Not just a voice call, but a full on video call. There was full 3G connection at every ger camp and also at most places along the way. I was taking pictures in the middle of nowhere and sending them to my wife from the middle of nowhere. I was as connected to the internet as I could ever be.

I was dumbfounded. How could a poor and sparsely populated country like Mongolia be so well connected? I mean, the are just two people per square kilometer and about half the population lives in cities. So if we take away the cities it amounts to one person per square kilometer. Something didn’t add up.

Then it struck me. Half the population of this country doesn’t have an address. They are nomads and move two to three times every summer and stay put every winter. They can move anywhere in the central grasslands of the country. So if any telecom service provider offered services to just the cities and major towns, it meant it was ignoring half the addressable market. That’s why Mobicom, the service provide I was using, figured out a way to connect the entire grasslands of Mongolia with not just basic cellular service, but also high speed internet.

Once again, my preconceived notions of Mongolia were shredded to bits.

This reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”