Telenor wants a series of stations that can provide mobile 4G coverage throughout the archipelago and a good distance offshore.
Today there is mobile coverage only in certain places outside Longyearbyen and Barentsburg. Satellite phones provide coverage everywhere, but in practice they don't always work and such phones are not in widespread use.
"We are thinking particularly about increasing preparedness along the coast," said Guttorm Albrigt Hansen, administrative director of Telenor Svalbard. "A 4G mobile station may spread signals up to 80 kilometers out to sea. Placed correctly, approximately 40 stations can provide coverage far out to sea and in large parts of the archipelago."
Hansen is a former leader of the crisis team at Telenor Norway, which was tasked with providing communication even when all normal lines did not work.
"I am concerned about readiness and that communications must work when you need it most," he said.
He said he knows that aboard a ship there are only a few satellite telephones and radio communications with the "bridge."
Full 4G coverage will also be used by everyone else who travels around in Svalbard, offshore and onshore.
Telenor has discussed the idea with relevant partners including The Governor of Svalbard, plus other government officials and politicians. Now the company is evaluating the potential to realize the initiative.
"Such stations will cost about ten million kroner apiece and the annual operational costs will come to about one million," Hansen said.
Each station can be assembled in Longyearbyen and flown out to the deployment locations. Power with be produced with diesel generators under today's technology, but in future it may be possible to use solar or hydrogen fuel cells.
An alternative for providing better phone coverage is sending up communications satellites. That potentially involves investments in the billions.
"We know that some of these mobile stations may conflict with national parks and conservation regulations," Hansen said. "The development will obviously be as gentle as possible. But good emergency preparedness that's preserving lives and health may in some cases result in an exempt from environmental considerations."
Will Telenor benefit finally from increased use of mobile phones all over the archipelago?
"Telenor has a national responsibility for communication and are not doing this to make money," Hansen said.
Telenor's proposal is known to the governor's office, which must deal with both the possible environmental exceptions as well as the establishment of a better phone network for emergency preparedness. But the governor's office believes it is too early to comment on the matter.
"The questions about establishing it and any exemptions have not been discussed with the governor," said Tone Hertzberg, the governor's spokesperson. "As long as we haven't received anything from Telenor it's too early to give a comment."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini