Mobile Phone and Internet

Compare coverage from different phone and internet providers

Before we start on the ‘how, why and which’ of mobile phone and internet, take a look at the different providers’ coverage maps.  These interactive maps will give you an understanding of which service coverage may be beneficial to you.  Provider coverage maps  You can now compare the coverages. 

The main players for travellers

So who are the players that travellers are chasing the most?  Telstra, Optus, Voda, are the three main contenders.  Voda, however, have nowhere near the coverage to satisfy the long-term traveller, so we’ll take them out of the equation from the outset.  Their coverage is more for the city dweller, although we have noticed a small marketing campaign aimed at the rural sector more recently.

Both Telstra and Optus claim coverage of over 95% of the population.  The key word being “population”.  Their representatives often used to use the word “country” in years gone by, but much of that was the ignorance or sales pitch of the individual, not the companies.

Vast areas of telecommunication voids

With approximately 85% of Australia’s population living within 50k of the coastline – and the majority of that population on the eastern coastal areas – this leaves a very small population across the remainder of the continent.  So there are vast areas not covered by mobile service coverage from either service providers, as the maps clearly indicate  (see link above). 

It would cost an absolute fortune to cover the whole of country.  The only way communicate in these vast gaps is via satellite communications.  Satellite phone and satellite internet (the latter not particularly fast) are expensive – and unless you have the right (and costly) gear, you need to be stationary in order to connect.  

Frustrating as it may be, we have to accept that we live on a massive chunk of dirt that in a business sense, is not viable to cover 100%.  There is nothing much we can do about it – except educate ourselves, keep ear to the ground for new advances and offers where one or the other service providers are out to gain the competitive edge.  In the meantime, use the best publicly available technology.  Make the most of it, and remember how good we do have it compared to our parents and theirs before them.

What about the other service providers?

Yes, there are other providers, Mobile Virtual Network Operators .  These are companies that re-sell airtime on the three different networks.  Boost Mobile (Telstra network) and Amaysim (Optus network) are the latest major contenders amongst something like 51 operators selling time at cheaper rates.  But how?  At what cost?  Well, they use the network to sell the inferior speed product.  3G or 4G in lieu of 4GX.  So you still get onto the network, but at a slower speed.  You need to decide if you can forego speed for the cheaper rate, or be happy to pay the slightly higher rate for the higher speed.  Again, it comes down to personal preference and budget.

External Antenna

Regardless of which provider you use, the connection principals are similar.  Mobile phones relay to a tower which sends out your signal to the network.  This is in turn picked up by the person you want to telstra towerconverse with.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it….  but if there is no signal because you are too far away from a network tower or in a “blackspot”, you may not get a connection.

LTE MIMO Directional 4G Panel Antenna

LTE MIMO Directional 4G Panel Antenna

However, not all is lost.  Range can be extended a bit with the use of an external antenna if your phone or modem has that capability. The use of external antennas is slowly growing in popularity.  The designs are in the form of the Yagi directional antenna, or a panel antenna such as the LTE MIMO Directional 4G Panel Antenna from RFI.  The argument about which is the better, again comes down to a matter of personal preference.  Both are affected by ‘line of sight’ interference such as land forms.  Hard as you might try for a signal, there could be some hill or mountain between you and the tower that will affect connection.  The panel antenna is very compact and easy to mount, store and use.  The yagi is a bit more cumbersome with some delicate and vulnerable parts that could be easily damaged with handling.

Yagi style directional antenna

Yagi style directional antenna

These antennas come with a twin cable.  Basically one in and one out.  A pair of ‘patch leads’ to suit the antenna ports of your phone or modem will also be required.  These patch leads are the connecting leads between your antenna cable and your device.  Approximate outlay is at about $200 – $300 + to purchase an antenna kit.

Our own experience with a panel antenna has been excellent.  Our best result was increasing reception from one bar 4G to 4 bars 4G, and more than doubling the speed.  This result has been repeated more than once.  At other times the improvement in reception was not as dramatic, but there was improvement none-the-less. 

If you rely on internet as we do, investment in either type of antenna is worth looking into.  But remember, if there is no signal, these antennas can’t operate.  There must be a minimal strength of signal for any reception device to operate. 

Your internet antenna may find a signal even if your phone shows none

 We have had occasions, where there has been no phone signal, but when we have set up the antenna, it’s found it.  It’s obviously been there, just so slight that the phone couldn’t detect what the antenna could.

Vehicle mounted antennas

We have covered vehicle mounted antennas on the UHF page.  Although discussing UHF antenna, the same information applies to mobile phone stick antenna.  You can see the article in UHF Antennas .   Have a look at the video information as well.

Wireless modem

Mobile phone and internet service providers are happy to sell you their latest wireless products.  In this case, a wireless modem.  These can be powered from 230v AC or USB, which is great for the traveller.  Not only can you access the internet, but also connect via wireless technology to your wireless printer, other laptops, tablet and smart phones.

wireless dogle

Wireless dongle


Nighthawk Wireless modem

The devices range from USB dongles to the latest Nighthawk device.  Unfortunately, most dongles don’t have facility for external antenna, whereas the slightly larger independent devices, such as the Nighthawk and WiFi Pro, do have the access ports.  They also allow to you to connect up to 15 wireless devices at the same time. 

There are other devices available and providers continue to change availability as technology changes.  Like devices and phones, provider plans will also inevitably change as they review market wants and needs along with technology.  You also have the option of ‘outright purchase’.  You purchase the device and then purchase a prepaid service or post paid plan.   Again, personal preference and budget – and when planning your internet needs, don’t forget your phone internet allowance.

Telstra 4GX WiFi Pro

Telstra 4GX WiFi Pro

Some providers allow you to ‘share’ your internet between devices.  ie. your modem might have monthly allowance of 20 g and your phone 10 g, plus your partners phone, another 10 g.  On a ‘shared’ account, that’s 40 G to share between the three devices. To make things even easier, ensure you demand a ‘single bill’.  That means one bill a month instead of 3 or 4.  That has got to sound attractive to your budget control.

Vehicle phone mounts

There any number of vehicle phone mounts available ranging from the cheap and nasty which just hold your phone, to the more expensive passive and active powered mounts.  Active mounts are more of a “dock” for your phone but most smart phones are not suited to this style as they don’t have the external antenna facility.  To get around this, the use of a passive (indirect) external mount can increase your mobile phone range in the vehicle.  Bury System 9 mountAlthough usually mounted in your vehicle, these devices can also be installed in a caravan. 

The powered units are the more reliable.  Products such as the Bury System 9 is a powered unit which accepts a signal from and to your phone and uses an external antenna for signal reception and transmission.  The mount transmits signal from your phone and sends it to an appropriate antenna.  Reception is simply the reverse.  We have a Bury 9 set up in our vehicle and have proved the signal difference between our two phones.  One phone on the Bury had 3 bars reception.  At the same time the other phone in a cheap and nasty cradle had barely 1 bar.

If you change phones, you don’t need to purchase a new system..  You can purchase either a universal cradle or a system 9 cradle to suit your new phone.  It is an interchangeable system.  Again, not cheap, but you are enhancing your communications and you’re are also future proofing yourself.


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