Broadband possibilities for Flying Doctors

By Critical Comms Staff
Thursday, 16 February, 2017

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The Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) could benefit from in-flight broadband access following a new trial with the Sky Muster satellite.

As part of the trial, four Qantas jets will fly Melbourne–Sydney–Brisbane routes while accessing unused Sky Muster data.

It will assist in the development of hardware and software for mobile in-flight internet access.

This would enable medical staff in planes to communicate with medical specialists on the ground.

“This opens the door to in-flight telehealth on the Flying Doctors’ planes,” Minister for Communications and the Arts Fiona Nash 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 government provided an extra $11 million in funding for the RFDS’s dental service during 2016. It will also upgrade remote airstrips.

“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,” said RFDS CEO Martin Laverty.

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

“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,” said Nash.

The Sky Muster satellite is made to deliver high-speed internet to the 4% of Australians who would never have received broadband any other way. Sky Muster is a big part of rural and remote NBN access.

Sky Muster is available across every inch of Australia through 101 huge beams that it shoots down onto the nation.

Qantas is only able to utilise the unused data in each beam and during the trial. In the highly unlikely event that there is no unused data in the beam through which the jet is flying, the jet will not be able to access any data. This is to ensure that 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,” Nash said.

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