Insight | Case study: Lewis Pugh


Case study: Lewis Pugh


Inmarsat enables East Antarctica connectivity for Lewis Pugh climate change swim.

Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans, who works to protect  the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. In 2007 he became the first person to swim across the North Pole, and in 2018 he was the first person to swim the entire length of the English Channel. He is also the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world.

The work of Lewis and his foundation has been instrumental in protecting over 2 million km² of vulnerable ocean – an area larger than Western Europe. Pugh is now aiming to promote and bring about the protection of at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, while continuing to raise awareness of climate change.  

In his latest project, Lewis Pugh swam down a sub-glacial river in East Antarctica to expose the startling effects of climate change. To communicate this important message from one of the most remote and inhospitable environments in the world, the team chose Inmarsat’s global connectivity. 

The challenge

East Antarctica’s extreme weather conditions and its position as the remotest place on the planet meant that communication was a major challenge. To achieve his objective, Pugh and his team needed secure, robust connectivity to share photos and information from camp with global decision-makers and the media. The mission was to alert international policymakers to the speed at which the ice sheet is melting and call for immediate action to safeguard Antarctica and the planet’s environmental future.

Lewis Pugh commented: “Antarctica is changing fast. The world needs to know that the effects of climate change are real and devastating. Being able to communicate these messages backed up with evidence is crucial, especially when high-level policy talks are taking place during the same period. Due to the nature and scope of this expedition, it was a unique opportunity to show the world what is happening on the continent. We could not afford to miss this opportunity due to the lack of connectivity in the region.”  

Not only did the lack of reliable connectivity threaten communication of the team’s message, it also prevented emergency communications in the event of a crisis. The inhospitable environment was a great concern for Lewis and his team, who were facing extreme cold, mountainous terrain and dangerous sub-glacial conditions.

Pugh commented: “Despite years of training in extreme conditions, conducting an expedition like this in an environment like East Antarctica entailed a high level of risk for our team. Being able to communicate with the world and our families gave us a sense of reassurance that was invaluable, especially under such difficult circumstances.”

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The solution

To overcome the communications challenge, Pugh partnered with Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications. Inmarsat provided Pugh and his team with the Cobham EXPLORER 710 BGAN terminal, enabling the team with a fast, reliable L-band experience.

The BGAN service provides simultaneous voice and data communications at speeds of up to 492kbps globally via small, lightweight satellite terminals that can be connected to portable PCs or smart devices. In addition, the BGAN terminals are plug and play, meaning that no technical expertise or training is needed to set up and use them, allowing users to get online within minutes.

Pugh and his team benefited from the robust, portable nature of BGAN, as well as its ease of use, allowing them to quickly connect their laptops and smartphones to the internet even in extreme weather conditions. The team was able to share images and reports with governments and key stakeholders in real-time, while keeping the team in contact with their families.

Lewis Pugh broadcasting via Inmarsat BGAN from Antarctica.

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Key benefits of our BGAN:

  • Reliability - operates over the Inmarsat L-band global satellite and ground network, with 99.9% availability. 
  • Performance - standard IP at a rate of up to 448kbps with a low latency from 800 milliseconds.
  • Easy to integrate: simple for field teams to set up, integrate and maintain without technical expertise or training.
  • Cost effective: low-cost terminal, low data rate plans with no reconnection fees.
  • Enhanced support – free over-the-air firmware upgrade. 

The results

Lewis Pugh’s East Antarctica Swim involved swimming in a supra-glacial river. The 10 minute 17 second swim took him through a tunnel underneath the ice-sheet, a world first.. During the event, Pugh’s team captured numerous striking images to demonstrate the impact of climate change in the region. Enabled by Inmarsat connectivity, Pugh shared these images with global policymakers and held interviews with the media, including the BBC, just a few hours after the swim.  

Pugh commented: “We no longer have the time to wait to find out what is happening in Antarctica, so we need to act now. We are in the midst of a climate emergency and being able to access and influence decision-makers with critical information will help safeguard our future.

“Having a mobile satellite communications partner like Inmarsat on this journey was essential. Inmarsat enabled us to show that East Antarctica might be the remotest place on the earth, but it does not have to be that far from home. We aim to speak on behalf of the planet and Inmarsat has helped make our voice heard."