McMillan Pastoral Company connects cattle operation by satellite

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This large cattle operation based in Queensland is one of the first to install mobile and reliable connectivity through Inmarsat’s broadband satellite service
The McMillan Pastoral Company turned to a BGAN connection when it needed more reliable communication for remote workers on its large cattle rearing business based in Cloncurry Qld.

InMarsat, a world leader in mobile satellite communications has been working with its partner Globalsat to provide the McMillan Pastoral Company a cost-effective solution using Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) satellite service.

This service allows McMillan’s remote farm workers to instantly connect their personal devices to the internet and maintain seamless urgent communications at all times.

Even when travelling between cattle stations where network coverage is unavailable.

This also means that no matter where McMillan workers are located, they will have access to a reliable method of communication, including for any emergency situation.

McMillan Pastoral Company is a large family cattle rearing business based in Cloncurry Qld.

It transports and sells cattle throughout the country, as well as exporting premium livestock to buyers around the world.

The company runs cattle across the almost two million hectares (five million acres) it owns in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The challenges faced running such a widespread farm operation in very remote locations are numerous.

One day you can be brokering high value deals with cattle buyers, accountants and lawyers, the next you could be cashing clean skin cattle (unbranded bulls and cows) to move or sell to market.

One of the biggest challenges the McMillan family operation faces on a daily basis is trying to finalise urgent business contracts with exporters from the various remote farm locations.

This includes sending and receiving important emails, contracts and documentation.

The McMillan’s business model relies heavily on cloud business apps such as Xero for payroll and accounting that require a stable internet connection at all times. 

When out in the paddock, McMillan’s workers and family regularly face the extremely physical activity of mustering wild bulls

This done through a combination of helicopters, 4×4 vehicles, horses, motorbikes and trucks on the ground.

In an accident or emergency scenario, the team needs to communicate quickly with emergency services, something that could take up to six hours to organise.

Finding an injured person has often proved challenging in the past due to the lack of any local terrestrial communications networks.

Additionally, during the wet season heavy rainfall means that farms can quickly become flooded once creeks overflow.

Properties can become isolated for anything up to six weeks in these circumstances, placing workers and family in potentially dangerous situations.

The background
Working across the McMillan spreads meant great distances in between job sites and it became impossible to use a fixed satellite dish to provide internet connectivity and provide workers with satellite phones for voice communication

Due to the remote location of each cattle station, the McMillan’s notably lacked a reliable form of connectivity in the past.

There was a lack of available terrestrial broadband, cellular mobile networks or landline telephones.

To provide a reasonable level of service, each farm building had to be equipped with a fixed satellite dish to provide local Wi-Fi internet connectivity.

Workers also had to be equipped with satellite phones for voice communications when they were on the road or out in the paddock.

This approach was proving to be unsuitable for the daily requirements of the cattle rearing business and the limited service available was proving costly to run and maintain.

Jane McMillan, head grazier at McMillan Pastoral Company explains: “Although many of our cattle stations use satellite dishes to provide Wi-Fi, it requires the user being in close proximity to the router to maintain a stable connection.

“However, many of our cattle stations are very large, with people needing to work away from the main building.

“Similarly, when using the portable satellite phones, each one operates on a unique dedicated number, so we have to rely on multiple different lines for business communications.

“This is not ideal, as it can lead to serious complications when dealing with customers and associates. 

“The monthly contract for our fixed dishes was also extremely expensive and we needed to find a cheaper and more reliable alternative.

“One that would allow each member of our team to instantly connect their personal devices to the internet from any location – even when travelling between cattle stations where network coverage is unavailable.”

The solution
Staff can carry the BGAN terminal to ensure they have unrestricted access to reliable voice and data communication

The McMillan Pastoral Company was keen to find a provider who could provide a cost-effective, mobile and reliable connectivity solution with a high level of technical support.

The McMillans chose GlobalSat a small independently owned family business based in West Ipswich Qld, established in 1996.

GlobalSat are a key partner of Inmarsat and a leading provider of satellite communications systems and equipment throughout Australia and internationally.

The company saw the potential of Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service, that it delivers via the Inmarsat-4 network and offers up to 99.9% coverage.

Due to the McMillan’s need to send and receive emails, contracts and documentation while on the move, GlobalSat recommended and provided a portable Cobham SATCOM EXPLORER 510 terminal to the McMillan Pastoral company for a trial period. This ended up being a great success.

The EXPLORER 510 solution enables simultaneous voice and broadband data up to 464kbps.

This is ideal for connecting any mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, in regions of limited terrestrial network coverage.

The terminal allows internet browsing, email, live video broadcasting, phone services, large file transfers, video conferencing and streaming, and VPN applications from any location.

While it is lightweight, compact and ruggedly constructed it means that it can be used in extreme weather conditions, making it a perfect solution for McMillan’s graziers.

When staff are driving between cattle stations or away from station buildings, they can carry the BGAN terminal to ensure they have unrestricted access.

Access to reliable voice communications, SMS text and broadband data from any location, all routed through the existing business phone number.

This removes the need for multiple telephone numbers and means staff can use their personal devices to maintain seamless business communications at all times.

Jane McMillan comments: “This BGAN terminal is robust and easily portable which makes it perfect for our workers to carry when out on the road or out into mustering camps.

“We have been using it regularly for fast and secure broadband when on the road and out mustering which has meant our teammates can immediately send urgent business emails and then download or print contracts as soon as they are received.

“Our number one priority was for all of our staff to be connected to the internet whenever and wherever it is needed.

“Not only is this new terminal easy-to-use and cheaper to operate than the fixed dishes and satellite phones.”

“But it is also important to know that if one of our team is caught in an emergency situation, they will be able to immediately connect to a reliable communications network and contact the necessary emergency services.”

Installation results
Mustering was never easier as each worker can use their personal devices to send and receive all voice and data communications over a secure internet connection at any time or location

McMillan management has been delighted with the results of the BGAN connection as it provides a communications solution that can be easily deployed while in the paddock and making them on par while working in a global market.

It is a dependable alternative to the fixed satellite dishes and satellite phones.

Whilst trialling the BGAN, the McMillan family business had a far greater level of operational flexibility.

Each worker can use their personal devices to send and receive all voice and data communications over a secure internet connection from the cattle stations and muster camps or while travelling between sites.

As opposed to the fixed dishes, the company has the option to turn the BGAN connection on and off during business hours and every member of the team can access SMS text messages and missed calls on their own smartphones. 

Jane McMillan concludes: “The BGAN solution has been extremely valuable for maintaining relationships with important clients and ensuring continuity of business processes such as payroll and accounting.

“There have been many situations where we have needed to quickly sign a contract worth millions of dollars and return it to the client from an area of limited connectivity.

“Now we have the capabilities to quickly print off, sign and scan a contract in a few minutes, successfully closing the deal and helping us secure millions of dollars’ worth of cattle sales and staying in touch.

“By routing all communications through the satellite terminal, all follow up correspondence can be conducted using the existing business number for a smoother and more professional client service.

“Also, as payroll processing can now get done from any location, this has removed the need to undertake long drives – sometimes up to four to six hours – to reach the closest cattle station for an internet connection point.

“As less driving equates to a more efficient use of resources, reduced expenses and improved sustainability, we are greatly improving our CSR and operating much more cost-effectively.”

There have been numerous situations in which extreme weather has meant that team members have had to make urgent calls to the local emergency services so they can report severe flooding and request support.

The portable BGAN terminal has provided McMillan Pastoral Company management with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that no matter where team members may be located, they have a reliable method of communication for any emergency situation.