No reception, no problems


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12-07-2010 08:19 AM


ABC Canberra 666

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ABC Canberra 666


12-07-2010 08:19 AM



12-07-2010 08:59 AM

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2010-07-12 08:19:27

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OM, Jason


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Flinders University researchers have come up with a way to make mobile phones work where there's no
reception. They've travelled to South Australia's outback to test the new system, which they say
could help in a disaster or emergency.

TONY EASTLEY: It's a new mobile phone system that promises to work anywhere and potentially help
save lives in a disaster. Australian researchers have developed software that allows mobile
telephones to link to each other where there's no reception. They've gone to extraordinary lengths
to test it out in a remote desert wilderness in South Australia.

AM's Jason Om joined them at Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges.

(Sound of a helicopter)

JASON OM: Our ride drops us into a landscape of deep valleys and rugged red ochre mountains. We've
landed at Sillers Lookout - a lonely cliff that juts out like a long finger. Up here, it's dead
quiet apart from a few flies and some unexpected chatter.

RESEARCHER: Okay, we there. Can you hear us?

RESEARCHER 2: Hi, yeah we can hear you fine, thank you.

RESEARCHER: Excellent.

JASON OM: Researchers from Flinders University have come to this remote spot to prove their
technology works. They're carrying out tests in a range of situations where there's no mobile phone

PAUL GARDNER-STEPHEN: Here at Arkaroola the nearest mobile phone coverage is probably 100 to 130
kilometres away. We are in chasms and gorges where even a satellite phone would actually have a lot
of trouble because you can't see enough of the sky to acquire the satellite.

JASON OM: Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen is leading the project. He's made software that allows ordinary
mobiles to communicate without phone towers or satellites.

How does it actually work?

PAUL GARDNER-STEPHEN: Really, what we've done is we've taken a very compact version of a mobile
phone tower and it's actually incorporated it into the phone itself. So using the wi-fi interface
that is in many phones today that you would normally use for internet or that kind of thing, we are
actually carrying voice over that but in a way that doesn't need to go back to a central repository

So when you can do wi-fi calls on your phone with Skype or one of these services but you actually
need an internet connection and access point and again you need infrastructure for that to work.

JASON OM: The signal between phones is limited to a few hundred metres but by adding more devices
and small transmitters the range can be expanded to cover a much bigger area.

Dr Gardner-Stephen says the system could provide an instant mobile phone network in a disaster.

PAUL GARDNER-STEPHEN: With Haiti what was actually observed was that their mobile phone network and
their landline phone network was essentially knocked out for the first 48 hours after the
earthquake. It was really about a week before it was back to the point where people could fairly
readily make calls.

What research has actually shown is that the vast majority of the response to a disaster is
actually form the local people there so if we can provide them with ease of communications as soon
as possible after the earthquake, not 48 hours, not 72 hours but potentially minutes after a
disaster, then we can help them to start rescuing people from rubble and generally rebuilding,
maintaining law and order. All of these things that are really vital for the response to these
kinds of things.

TELEPHONE MESSAGE: Press the hash key.

JASON OM: The tests in the desert have been a success. The researchers' next step is to increase
range, improve sound quality and develop a way of air dropping the system into a disaster zone.

TONY EASTLEY: Jason Om reporting from the South Australian outback.