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Tuesday, 23 April 2013 14:01

Before moving house, check for mobile coverage


I've had a nightmare week. As a work from home journalist I'm totally dependent on Internet and telephone access but I found myself totally cut off after I moved house.

Of course I knew it would take a couple of weeks to get a DSL and fixed line phone service connected. No worries I thought. I've got my cellphone and I'll just use wireless broadband, it's cheap enough and fast enough these days for emails and web browsing and as the crow files I'm only about 5km from the CBD so it should be no problem. Wrong!

Not only does Telstra wireless broadband not work from my mobile at my new abode, I can't even make and receive voice calls reliably. Incoming calls go to voicemail without the phone ringing, it's hard to make outgoing calls and when I do get a connection the person at the other end can't make out what I'm saying.

Tried a 'Blue Tick' phone - the new Blackberry Z10, no better. Surely coverage can't be so bad here I thought. I'm on the first floor on top of a hill. Maybe there's a network problem.

So I used Telstra's online chat. Response was quick and efficient. "You are in a 4G coverage area." 4G! Forget it. I rarely see HSPA come up, often it's back down to Edge. "Call our customer support hotline and ask for network issues, they are open 24 hours." I did. The operator promised it would be investigated and someone would get back to me in a day or so. They did. "We have checked the network in your area, there are no issues and we have no upgrades scheduled." Thanks.

They did offer to supply a device that is sufficiently sensitive to pick up the weak signal and rebroadcast it (Something like this one ) $700 and no option to rent.

Next thing was to go and get a prepaid Optus SIM and see if Optus coverage was any better. It wasn't. Tried Vodafone but couldn't get that to work at all (there's another story there.).

By this time I was getting really desperate. Then I remembered, among the piles of stuff I'd packed for the move was a Netcomm 3G wireless gateway they'd given me to review back in 2008. It has an external antenna so maybe it will pick up enough signals to work, I thought.

Amazingly the SIM it came with was still active. I simply plugged it in and fired it up. It connected to the Internet and I was able to surf the Web. The signal strength is low, but the connection seems to be reliable, giving me about 0.8Mbps down and 0.2Mbps upstream. That's enough upstream bandwidth to support my VoIP service so long as I don't put any other load on the service. I can live with that, just, but the mobile phone is a big problem. Of course that problem could probably also be solved with an external antenna but that's a feature that is no longer deemed necessary.

According to this web site only a few phones have one There is one other solution: an inductive charging cradle that connects to an external antenna and then inductively couples the signal to the handset. They are designed primarily for in-vehicle use. Such a device has the advantage that in addition to enabling me to make and receive voice calls I can, hopefully, use the included data on my Telstra mobile plan (2GB and $30 for an extra 3GB) instead of paying prepaid rates for data ($40 for 1GB).

I haven't managed to get hold of one of those yet, but I did buy an external antenna from Jaycar and an inductive coupler - a postage stamp sized gizmo on the end of a cable - that is designed to inductively couple it to the antenna in the phone. Totally useless, it made no measurable difference to the signal strength showing on the phone.

There really should be more cellphones with external antenna connections. And I really should have checked the indoor mobile coverage before I signed the lease :-(((.

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