Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Fiona Nash

Minister for Regional Communications

Deputy Leader of the Nationals

The Sky’s the limit in new Sky Muster trial

15 February 2017

A new trial involving the Sky Muster satellite opens the door to potentially life-saving in-flight broadband access for the Royal Flying Doctors Service, mobile units for emergency services to use during natural disasters and mobile Sky Muster receivers for tractors and utes.

The trial involves four Qantas jets flying Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane routes accessing unused Sky Muster data (through a retail company which sells NBN Sky Muster access) whilst in flight. It will help develop and refine hardware and software for mobile in-flight internet access, which once tested can be used in other circumstances including by the RFDS.

In-flight broadband access for RFDS would mean their medical staff in planes could communicate with medical specialists on the ground. They may for example send live patient data from a cardio-pulmonary tracker to a heart surgeon who can monitor the situation and give instant advice on how to keep the patient alive.

“This opens the door to in-flight telehealth on the Flying Doctors’ planes,” Minister Nash, who was also formerly the Minister for Rural Health, said.

“The idea of a Flying Doctor’s plane over the outback sending live data to a specialist in say Sydney or Melbourne, who gives instant advice which saves a life, is just so exciting. The idea of emergency services crews being able to do the same sort of thing during say a bushfire or other natural disaster is fantastic.

“The RFDS is such a great example of the Aussie spirit. I was proud to announce an extra $11 million in funding for the RFDS’s dental service last year; I’m proud the Coalition Government is upgrading remote airstrips and I’m glad this new mobile satellite technology will help them care for patients in the air.”

RFDS CEO Martin Laverty has met with NBN Co about joining the trial.

“In flight broadband would allow in injured or ill patient’s medical information to be shared instantly with hospitals or specialists. It has potential to improve patient outcomes and the Flying Doctor is keen to test Sky Muster’s potential,” Mr Laverty said.

Other results to come from the mobile technology trial can potentially be used to develop mobile satellite receivers which can be used on the ground – for instance in a tractor or ute on a farm.

“I’m rapt at the idea farmers may, in a few years, be using Sky Muster while driving in their ute or tractor,” Minister Nash said.

“This could allow them to do all sorts of things, including use their mobile phones via wifi where there is no mobile phone reception.

“Given so much of Australia’s 20 million square kilometres is hilly or mountainous terrain in which mobile phone towers don’t exist and have limited effectiveness where they do, that’s excellent news for those of us who live in or work that kind of country.”

Sky Muster is an ultra-modern satellite made to deliver high-speed internet to the four per cent of Australians who would never have received broadband any other way. Sky Muster is a big part of the rural and remote NBN access under both Coalition and Labor Governments.

Sky Muster is available across every inch of Australia through 101 huge beams it shoots down onto the nation. The trial will see four Qantas jets use the unused data in the beams between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, the only route those jets fly.

Qantas is only able to use unused data in each beam and during the trial, in the highly unlikely event there is no unused data in the beam the jet is flying through, the jet will not be able to access any data. This is to make sure Sky Muster users on the ground are unaffected by the trial.

“NBN Co has assured me the trial will not impact any ground user in any way. If it does, NBN Co can end the trial using a contract termination clause which ends the deal if a user on the ground is affected,” Minister Nash said.

“I’m absolutely rapt at the technology which can come from this trial and I’m also determined no Sky Muster user on the ground will be affected.”

ENDS

Media contacts:
Minister Nash: Les White 0409 805 122 les.white@regional.gov.au
RFDS: Lana Mitchell 0401 946 282 lana.mitchell@rfds.org.au

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