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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 06:41 GMT 07:41 UK
E-mail provides Arctic lifeline
Team Fujitsu during the race
The team trekked for up to 14 hours a day during the race
The Arctic wilderness may seem like the last place on Earth to send and receive e-mail.

But a team taking part in a recent race to the Magnetic North Pole found that they were able to do just that by using PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants).

They found that the handheld computers fared much better in the extreme cold than other equipment.

"It was our link to civilisation," said Paul "Seamus" Hogan, a member of Team Fujitsu who is now in London, "but it also made you feel that you were a long way from home."

Slow connection

Eight teams made up of three explorers took part in last month's Polar Challenge, covering 280 nautical miles in a race to be the first to reach the North Pole.

Traditionally such teams would rely on satellite phones to keep in touch, but reception in the Arctic can be patchy and unreliable.

It was a great adventure and a way to see what I was made of, physically and mentally, in a beautiful but brutal part of the world
Paul "Seamus" Hogan
So one of the teams sponsored by Fujitsu decided instead to turn to e-mail to report back to base and let loved ones at home know how they were doing.

They used PDAs to connect to an Iridium satellite and then hooked up to the internet.

"We normally had a 10-minute window at the end of a 12 to 14 hour trek to send a short message," recalled Mr Hogan, a client services operations manager who was invited to join Team Fujitsu.

"The e-mails got shorter as we got more tired," he told BBC News Online.

The messages had to be brief as the team were relying on an internet connection of just 2.4Kbps, about a twentieth of a standard dial-up connection.

Hardware extremes

Mr Hogan said the daily messages were a way of reassuring his partner Sophie that everything was fine, especially after the day when they came across a polar bear.

Team Fujitsu during the race
Before sending e-mails, the team had to set up camp
"It was harder for her at home with our newly-born baby," he said, "worrying about him and also about me."

Surprisingly, the team found that the PDAs coped remarkably well with the cold. Initially Mr Hogan carried it in his long johns to keep the device warm.

But he later discovered that the PDA worked just as well when it was exposed to the cold.

In contrast, Mr Hogan found that his MP3 player tended to seize up due to the icy climate.

Temperatures during the Challenge dropped as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Now back at his desk in London, he has no regrets about putting himself through such a challenge.

"I feel a great sense of achievement," he said. "It was a great adventure and a way to see what I was made of, physically and mentally, in a beautiful but brutal part of the world."

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