Mobile Phone Reception Out West - Aerials, Repeaters? What works?

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 17:42
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Hi there,

We went on a trip out through outback QLD and NSW a couple of months ago, which was great, but I decided that I'd like to look into how I can improve the reception for our mobile phones on the next trip, coming up in about 2 months time, for safety and practicality (while outback our house was burgled and had other issues such that it would have been good to have had better contact).

Pls tell me what you have found works for boosting phone signal - I know there are aerials/boosters you can buy. My wife and I both have a mobile phone - ideally we would have a system where either or both phones have better coverage at any time. The phones we have are android phones with no external point for aerial connection (Brisbane city workers). Alternatively, I'm not averse to buying a cheap phone with an external aerial connection that we hook up permanently to the car, and swap our SIM cards in and out when we are out west.

I am a technical guy and am pretty handy with electrical and car installation so I'll look for something that is neat and clean, and I can do complex installation myself if necessary.

What have you found works, and gives you rock solid coverage at times that you need it?

I'm looking at setting ourselves up in the next week or two with a setup that will improve our coverage.

Thanks in advance,
Paul
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Reply By: olcoolone - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 18:24

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 18:24
It depends on what carrier you are using...... Vodafone at the bottom and Telstra at the top but saying that there is no guarantee you will get reception where your travelling.

If phone contact is important you would need to look at a satellite phone..... and then it's hit and miss.

It is illegal to run any type of booster on a mobile phone and all the networks in Australia run a time over distance algorithm meaning you could be in direct sight of a cell but the distance to the tower is over an acceptable distance so the cell will not let you have access.

The other option is an external antenna that will give you anything from a couple of kilometres to 30 kilometres extra depending on terrain.
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Follow Up By: Member - bungarra (WA) - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:54

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:54
"a time over distance algorithm meaning you could be in direct sight of a cell but the distance to the tower is over an acceptable distance so the cell will not let you have access"

Hi olcoolone

Can you help a layman understand this a little clearer please?

I assumed that the signal strength is what determined access rather distance.......in reality they go hand in hand that is distance / strength

For example I have many times got voice from up to 70 / 80km's out with various antennae combinations..........basically from experience the internet drops out first, followed by voice and lastly SMS on the weakest signal

never used any booster.......I understand those boost up the signal and may give you access when you have a very weak signal......and I guess people may use them very briefly to get out and then shut them off....I guess in that case of very sparing intermittent use it is probably not going to alert the carrier that one was in use?..........

however I have never bothered with getting one....my antennae combinations suit me fine.

Life is a journey, it is not how we fall down, it is how we get up.
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 20:47

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 20:47
It's caller "Timing advance" for the older 1 and 2g systems and hard to find information on the 3g or Next G systems but I would say they would have some sort of timing advance to make them work.

Finding in depth technical information on how some thing work is near imposable and is supplied on a need to know basis only

Forms of timing advance is common in multi user multi base station digital radio.

Here are some links as it explains it better.....

http://telecomtraffic.com/topic171-gsm-timing-advance-ta-in-gsm.html

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/972134

Saying that I have had phone reception 90k from the nearest base.
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 20:56

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 20:56
Heres a bit more...

http://telcoantennas.com.au/site/guide-to-mobile-networks
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Follow Up By: The Bantam - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:45

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:45
Because modern phones are a computer and the radio communication is a high speed data stream carried on a microwave ( or near microwave) link there are limitations assocaited with time and distance.

Further, they need to limit the cell size and the reach of each base station for practical operational reasons

Remember in normal operation, the system has to locate your phone anywhere in the country or if international roaming is in operation anywhere on the face of the planet among thousands of base stations, where there is a compatable service.

Then as it goes and relativly seamless, select the best base station or cell to serve your phone from.....all faster than human perception

This is no simple matter of radio reception.

The modern mobile phone service is one of the smartest and complicated things mankind has achieved.

SO regardless of actual radio reception limitation there are intentional limits within the system limiting how far you can be from any given tower and have the service work.

From what I understand this time related distance limitation is absolute.

The next most significant limitation is line of sight.....while at short range modern digital mobile signals will seem to punch thru buildings, in medium or long distances reception is strictly line of sight.

Try as you may, you can not improve mobile phone service beyond the above two factors.

Yes external high gain aerials may help in some situations with some phones......but much of the time, particularly with phones with no external aerial socket.....nothing beats driving up a hill and standing on the roof rack.

cheers
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Reply By: Member - William B (The Shire) - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 18:35

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 18:35
Hi Paul F2,
I have a telstra branded ZTE phone that I use when travelling "outback"
The ZTE has a port for an external antennae.
I have the antenna on the bullbar and a patch lead to connect the phone.
I use a telstra prepaid sim.
The cost is higher than I would like for calls and data but it is really the only option.
It is still a bit hit and miss but the best bet.
If I need to contact some one I usually get them to ring me, using a text message.
Cheers,
William
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Reply By: allein m - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:32

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:32
As I have said before the actual phone is important my wife and I have samsung phones both blue tick but my wifes phone has no external arial and gets better reception when we leave town (Broken Hill ) but even with a good phone and reception actual phone reception is patchy at least once you leave Broken hill in any direction

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Follow Up By: Member - Frank P (NSW) - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 22:18

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 22:18
The Samsung S2 3G has an antenna socket. You have to remove the back cover to access it. You can get a patch cord to suit off eBay.

The S2 4G has two sockets, ditto re the back cover, but I don't know which was 3G and which was 4G. Are they different frequencies, therefore requiring different antennas? My mate enlisted me as the called party when he was trying to test them but we didn't get a positive conclusion.

With my 3G S2 I use a small external magnetic base antenna. It makes a weak patchy signal useable but does not hugely extend range.

We have a sat phone for essential comms when out of coverage.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 20:50

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 20:50
Hi Allein/Frank

I have just down from Queensland through Tibooburra thru Broken hill to Wentworth with phone comms all the way using the older A411 Samsung and so with a small magnetic base aerial on the roof (5dbi).

Its a good low cost setup.

As luck would have it I recently picked up a brand new A411 off Ebay that has been sitting new unopened in a closet for 5 years.

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Reply By: Paul F2 - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:46

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:46
Thanks guys, yes we are both already on Telstra after we changed due to reception issues we were having with Optus at my parents place in rural east coast qld. My phone has the blue tick as well (HTC One XL) but no external jack for an external aerial. Even with the blue tick we had patchy reception in areas out west where I'm 90% sure we could have done better with an external aerial in that we would drive to slight peaks on hills and I'd pull reception on the phone (no aerial).

I think for the amount of time we spend out west a sat phone might be prohibitively expensive, so maybe a cheap phone with external jack and an aerial is the go. It'll be great to maximise our reception when stopped at campsite. Even if patchy, is an aerial actually likely to give me improvement? If so, can anyone recommend specific setups? I noticed that police cars out west had aerials with massive fat bases on them that you don't see on the east coast - don't know if they were for their private police network or if it was for mobile phone reception.
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Follow Up By: Member - Rod N (QLD) - Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:55

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 at 19:55
The aerials with massive fat bases on them on police cars out west would be for HF radios.

Have a read of these previous posts Mobile Phone Antennas from theforum search function.
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Reply By: Zebra400 - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 05:15

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 05:15
Paul, the first thing I would do is look at the Telstra map coverage and see if it is possible to in range of a cell. Having an external antenna is a great asset, as it will give you much better coverage than without, but if you arent in range of a cell, then the external antenna wont do anything for you.

Look at this map
here

You will see that there is next to no coverage in western NSW & Qld, so if you want to have communications outback in these areas, you need to llok at a sat phone of an HF radio. The cheaper of the 2 is probably a sat phone. If costs are an issue for you, then look at an Inmarsat phone. If you apply for the govt subsidy, then phone will cost you $425. Adding on $100 of pre paid calls will give you 100 mins of calls which you can use over the next 2 years. The downside of the Inmarsat system, is that the phone antenna needs to be pointing north as Inmarsat only have one satelite for Oz coverage. The other downside is that ringing the phone is expensive, but friends & family can email you to your phone for nothing.l
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Follow Up By: silvwayne - Thursday, Jul 18, 2013 at 18:30

Thursday, Jul 18, 2013 at 18:30
I work in the far western area of NSW and there is not many areas that I cannot get a signal with my aerial on bullbar. I have just purchased a new one and mounted it on my winegard tv aerial and get a lot better reception. The area around Wannaring is the worst.
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Reply By: pop2jocem - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:11

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:11
To those in the know this will most probably sound like a very naive question but would having an external aerial higher than a roo bar or roof rack make any difference. The phone in question is an i-phone4 with telstra. I believe a cradle with whatever type of aerial is needed as there is no connection (plug in) point. Well none that I could find unless the charging/computer connection port does the job.

Thanks
Pop
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Follow Up By: The Bantam - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:50

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 15:50
Remember mobile phones are strictly line of sight at distance......in certain situations height is everything.

Realy the bullbar is possibly THE worst place to mount any aerial.

chers
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Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 17:00

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 17:00
Fair enough, so if I was getting very limited service or none, if I stood on my roof rack, tied the external aerial to a pole (within the limitations of the coaxial cable length) and poked it in the air I MAY get a bit better reception????

Cheers
Pop
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Follow Up By: landseka - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 18:43

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 18:43
Forget the expense of the Ariel, just climb a tree t
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 20:34

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 20:34
As said above height is everything BUT in a mobile situation I doubt if you would notice any real difference as the variables are so great.

If we were talking microwave thats a whole different kettle of fish.

Antennas will radiate around things as long as what it is radiating around is not to close..... you often see two antennas mounted on a bull bar a couple of inches apart, this would upset the radiating pattern greatly, move them apart greater and the other antenna starts becoming invisible.

Think of it as a human eye.... you hold a pencil 10mm in diameter 5mm from your eye and it reduces a great deal of vision..... move 100mm from your eye and you can see more around the pencil and at 1000mm and you can see a great deal more, this is how an antenna works.

We run both our Next G modem and UHF antennas on the roof rack, the sat phone antenna is on the bull bar (I hate it) and the HF is on the back away from the vehicle body.
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Follow Up By: The Bantam - Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 22:19

Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 22:19
But it is microwave.
The lowest frequencies our mobile phones run on at the moment is 900Mhz..and most will run a much higher frequencies at times....some run in much higher frequencies only.

Saying 900Mhz is not microwave may technically be true...but so close it matters little.

Very much line of sight.

the old addage is high and clear and every inch counts.

even standing on the ground in the city the line of sight thing bites at times.

The bottom line is if you want mobile phone reception in a difficult area.....find a good place and stop.

cheers
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Reply By: outbackjoe - Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 17:13

Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 17:13
I don't think the 35km limit applies to 3G. Actually it's completely disproven experimentally since people have verified getting a signal from more than 35km, including myself.

All other things equal (line of sight, elevation, etc), when you have marginal reception with zero bars an external aerial will give you a couple of extra bars. This is the difference between being only able to send a txt msg to being able to surf the net. When you are out of range and have no reception at all an external aerial will give you anything from nothing to a couple of bars signal strength, depending on line of sight and how far you are from transmitter. This is from my experience anyways. If you are 100's of kms from a transmitter or have no line of sight an external aerial wont make any difference.

If you need permanent reception you can get a satellite phone but data is super expensive. Or you can get satellite internet package but setup costs are a few grand and you need to mount and align the satellite dish every time you want to use it.
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Reply By: Vipasha v - Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 01:31

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013 at 01:31
This post has been read by the moderation team and has been moderated due to a breach of The Spamming Rule .

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