The trouble with illegal mobile repeaters
Posted on April 13, 2018
3 min read
Dropped calls, slow data speeds and poor reception can be symptoms of interference on the network. Although customers are quick to point the finger at their network providers, we are increasingly finding that illegally supplied mobile repeater devices are often the culprit.
Every month we find illegal repeaters causing a disruption to mobile coverage for around 20 different communities across the country.
Mobile repeaters are intended to improve mobile coverage in places where the mobile signal is weak. The devices work by wirelessly replicating or ‘repeating’ a mobile signal from a location where signal is usable, to boost reception into another area where coverage is lacking.
The problem with illegal repeater devices, and the reason using them is against the law, is that without the necessary authorisation for use – and, more importantly, the technical specifications and internal protections of Telstra approved devices – they can and do cause major interference on the network.
They do this by generating an excessive level of “noise” that can degrade network performance for other users, and effectively drown out other communications, including on the portion of our network used by emergency services. Unauthorised repeaters are also more prone to failure, which can have unintended consequences and cause further interference.
While reception may improve in the immediate vicinity of an illegal repeater, the coverage for people located elsewhere in the coverage area – particularly for those using devices on the edge of the coverage area – is often degraded or even lost completely.
The result of the increase of illegal repeaters is thousands of Australians with poor or intermittent reception, slow data speeds, and no way to run their business or connect with loved ones. And imagine what it could mean in an emergency.
Interference caused by illegal mobile repeaters becomes life-threatening when it prevents people from calling Triple Zero in an emergency. For these reasons we, alongside the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and state and territory government agencies, are working hard to reduce the instances of illegal mobile repeaters.
In the past 12 months, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars developing and distributing radio frequency detection tools, capable of approximating the location of active interferers. When we detect these devices, we take steps to have them removed, which can include reporting the illegal repeater to the ACMA for enforcement action.
To operate a mobile repeater, it must be a carrier approved device such as the Telstra Mobile Smart Antenna and customers must obtain an authorisation from their carrier for its use.
More information can be found on the ACMA website.
More information about the laws surrounding mobile repeaters can be found in ACMA’s guide for consumers.