Picture the scene, if you will. It’s 29 degrees Celsius. A high proportion of sun-thirsty honeymooners have just disembarked a Thomson Fly flight direct to Male, Maldives, from London’s Gatwick airport. There’s relief to be on the ground and in the hot, hot weather. There’s further relief to be had at the passport control stand in the terminal as it’s helpfully air conditioned.
Your two heroes on this occasion — that’s me, and my other half, Hetty — obtain our baggage and hunt for the huge box that we sent through outsize baggage at Gatwick.
One suitcase contains the usual holiday (or ‘vacation’) gubbins — swimsuits, shorts, sun tan lotion. The other suitcase is jammed full of electronic wizardry. Think sat phones, think laptops, think copious network cables, think five different mobile handsets and ancillary leads and cables.
Jam-packed. A customs nightmare waiting to happen.
I stood at passport control as I saw the suitcases arriving on to the conveyor belt and hoped that no one in the Maldives associated multiple mobile handsets with those of a suspect character.
There was a degree of waiting around involved for the big box. Huge box. Maybe 75cm x 75cm. (So huge, in fact, that it wouldn’t fit in the first car that came to pick us up to take us to the airport. That Mercedes was dispatched back to base and a transit minibus substituted instead.)
Eventually the box arrived being pushed by the knees of a slightly bored looking baggage attendant. He came out an emergency exit door and was, I think, surprised at my yell of triumph as I surged forward — a one man surge — to retrieve the package.
I stuck it on the trolley and hoped for the best as we hit the customs/security queue.
They’re very hot on contraband here in the Maldives — as one might expect for a muslim country. No pornography, no alcohol and the like. So instead of a relatively benign customs experience, absolutely all luggage was being scanned prior to exit. In the queue, I wondered just what your average customs agent would make of my Teleware Private Mobile Networks system. That’s what was in the big box.
Strictly speaking, there was no need for me to send the large cardboard box. The Private Mobile Networks system actually comes in a ruggedised bright yellow container that, I reckon, might pass for hand luggage on most airlines.
I didn’t want to ship it in its container though. Didn’t want to get it scuffed. Profuse thanks go to Lesley and her team at Teleware who agreed to lend me the device in the first place.
My aim is to try it out on the desert island here and take some pictures and video of it actually working. There’s been huge interest when I’ve told people that I’m ‘taking my own mobile network’ to the desert island. Everyone wants to know how it works. I shall not disappoint.
There is, however, a temporal issue.
When I arrived at the customs desk, the suitcases passed without interest.
However I think it was incumbent upon the customs officer to ask me what was inside the large cardboard box. They’d scanned it already. Nothing interesting. No alcohol, etc.
“It’s a private mobile network,” I explained, “I’m testing it for my publication.”
The customs lady wanted to know if I had paperwork. For what, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know if she was, either.
“Do you want to see inside?” I asked. She nodded, handing me a knife and some tape.
I opened up the box and dug around in the white foamy bits for the big yellow container. The Private Mobile Network, you see, comes in a yellow container. That’s it. You just literally plug it in. It’s brilliant.
Out came the box and I placed it on the examining table as bewildered holidaymakers strolled by, already overheating.
I opened it up. I smiled as I opened the lid — there were four of Sonim’s JCB ToughPhones carefully placed in shaped foam inside the lid. Smart.
The bottom half of the device is simply flat. It looks to me like all the equipment is actually integrated into the bottom half of the case — no lose or spare parts to jiggle about. Instead there was a power switch and a cable lead.
Genius. The idea with one of these things is simple. You rock up to the middle of nowhere. Siberia, or some desolate tundra, somewhere… you plug this into a power socket (and, if you’d like back-haul, plug it into an internet connection) and woosh, you’re live. Simple as. This is what I wanted to test out.
Sadly the customs lady wasn’t entirely sure what to do.
Her colleague enquired as to the value of the item.
“20,000 pounds,” I said. That’s a rough guess. (You’d need to talk directly to Teleware to get a specific quote for your project.)
I wondered if, actually, the customs chaps didn’t seem to have an issue with me bringing the technology into the country. Good.
Turns out, after a few more minutes worth of conversation and the involvement of the on-site Conrad Hotel organiser, that the customs chaps don’t really mind. They need a letter from the hotel explaining what I’m going to do with the device and that’ll waive customs duties.
Elvis, the PR here at the hotel, is busy sorting out the paperwork. I shall shortly be able to bring you footage of this device working. It’s going to be brilliant.