Mobile tower in remote Australia
Network |

Your regional mobile coverage questions answered

By Sri Amirthalingam March 31, 2021

You expect that when you pull your phone out of your pocket, you’ll unlock it and immediately be able to place a call, send a text or use the internet. And so long as you’re in a suitable coverage area, that’s how it works, right? As it turns out, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes to make that possible, especially in regional and rural areas. Here’s how your coverage works, and some tips on how to improve it.

Whether you’re in town or the top sheep paddock wondering where the baa baa black spots are, there are a few things you should know about how network coverage works.

How does the Telstra mobile network operate?

You’re able to do all the amazing things on your phone because of cellular signals beamed out of our base station towers situated around the nation. You can see where this coverage is on our Mobile Coverage Maps.

Those towers operate on a variety of radio frequencies across several key pieces of radio spectrum. It’s easy to think of it as just 3G, 4G and now the amazing 5G, but in actual fact, there are many different radio frequencies we operate on in those Gs to make your phone work.

All of these technologies overlap and interlock to create one Telstra mobile network: a vibrant tapestry of radio signals all working hard to power millions of conversations and billions of interactions between devices every single day.

Does Telstra take mobile coverage away?

No, we do not take away coverage. We have invested billions over the last several decades delivering Australia’s best mobile network, from 1G all the way up to 5G and beyond.

As we grow our mobile network around Australia and upgrade it with the latest technology, we occasionally come to a point where it is necessary to say goodbye to older technology, and to use the spectrum bands it was carried on to boost the performance of newer and more efficient technology.

In December 2016, we switched off our 2G to provide more spectrum for 4G. As part of our program to continually upgrade our network to the latest technology and expand our 4G and 5G coverage, we’ve announced the eventual switch-off of our 3G technology. This will not happen until June 2024 – more than three years away.

We are working towards expanding the 4G technology so its coverage is materially the same as 3G coverage today.

We know maintaining existing coverage is important for our customers and the communities they live in, and visitors to regional areas, so that why we’ve made our 4G coverage commitments.

Will 4G coverage after 3G closure be better than what existed with CDMA and 2G?

Telstra’s 4G coverage is already greater that our 2G coverage and our commitment is for 4G coverage to be similar to our 3G coverage by mid 2024.

As both network and device technologies have progressed significantly from the days of CDMA and 2G customer experiences are better than they have ever been, and their experiences will continue to improve as 4G expansion progresses.

How does the use of different spectrum bands affect coverage?

Spectrum bands vary in terms of how far they travel, and the bandwidth which is available for use by mobile operators. Our 3G technology uses 850MHz spectrum while the primary band for our 4G technology is 700 MHz. Both 700 MHz and 850 MHz are known as ‘low band’ spectrum and they travel further than ‘mid’ and ‘high’ band spectrum.

The propagation of 700 MHz is slightly better than that of 850 MHz, and as 700 MHz will be used for our 4G expansion we do not anticipate there being any material changes in coverage due to the change in spectrum used. Where minor variations in coverage do occur these would likely be at the fringes of our network, and attributable to variations in antenna types, their precise placement and direction and device-specific differences in radio sensitivity.

It is also possible that in transitioning from 3G to 4G there will be locations that may end up with coverage on 4G that they never had with 3G.

How available will 5G be in regional areas?

Our 5G coverage is already available in more than 100 regional towns and this footprint will increase with time. You can check Telstra’s coverage availability for each generation of mobile technology on our website.

What do the bars on my phone mean, and why do they change?

We’ll let you in on a secret right off the bat. Signal bars – the four to five little indicators on your smartphone that show how much signal you have – don’t mean a whole lot these days.

Fewer bars doesn’t indicate less service, and indeed there are no standards for signal bars. The way signal bars are displayed on your device reflects vendor manufacturing decisions, and almost every device is different.

Signal bars also vary between mobile technologies. 4G, for example, is a more advanced technology than 3G, meaning 4G can operate at lower signals. If you notice fewer bars when moving from a 3G area to 4G area this doesn’t mean any coverage has been lost, it’s simply a reflection of the more advanced technology in use. The ability to make, receive and maintain calls and utilise high speed data are the best indicators of network performance. These are the things you should focus on.

How far does a phone work from a base station?

This is a tough one, because it has no fixed answer. As always, it depends on a number of factors.

A lot of it depends on the phone you’re using. All phones differ in the way they pick up signal, and some perform significantly better than others.

We do a range of testing and discuss signal characteristics of new phones before they’re released by manufacturers. The devices that perform best in test are certified as Blue Tick devices, and these are considered the best devices for getting handheld voice coverage in regional and rural areas. It is testing done exclusively by our engineers to perform best on our network, so you won’t find it anywhere else.

The accessories you’re using with your phone can also make a difference. If you have your phone plugged into a powered external antenna, you can expect better results, for example. If you’re using an approved device like a Telstra-Go Repeater, you’ll have better results. Coverage can even depend on how you hold your phone. The rest depends on geography. Where are you standing when you use your phone? Are you in an area where a base station can’t reach like a gully or river bed? Are you indoors or outdoors?

All of these factors and more can contribute to your mobile coverage experience.

How and where are new base stations built?

It takes a significant amount of investment to build a new base station. It’s why the cost of our mobile network is in the billions!

A base station is typically a connection to our broader core network via a super-fast fibre connection. It takes a lot for us to run the fibre to each individual base station and connect it to the rest of our network, which is why these costs can be considerable.

It’s not always as simple as building a huge base station on top of the biggest hills in the country. Not only is it not feasible, we need to get access to land, fibre and power for the site.

We also need to consider where the majority of the base station’s users are going to be situated, and how the coverage will fan out over the geography of the area.

Aside from building new towers, we also do a considerable amount of work maintaining, improving and upgrading our existing base stations. From planned upgrades to add 5G to an area, or to apply new software that boosts a tower’s range, we’re always building you a better network.

Should I “lock” my phone’s frequency?

We have heard instances where our customers have been advised to “lock” their phone to a specific frequency that they have successfully connected to in the past. This is where you tell your phone to look for one frequency only, as opposed to taking advantage of the multiple layers of frequency that make up our network.

Doing this can severely degrade your experience on our network, and it’s advised you leave it to Automatic in your settings so your phone can find the best signal available wherever you are.

How can I make my phone work better in my house?

Connecting your smartphone to your home Wi-Fi network is a great way to improve your in-home experience. It’s all thanks to SMS and Voice Over Wi-Fi enabled on our network.

SMS over Wi-Fi means that when your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network that can access the internet, you’ll still be able to receive SMS messages even if your phone can’t connect to our mobile network.

Check out how to get it working on Telstra.com.

You can also look at installing what’s known as a Yagi antenna on your house to improve your reception. We’ve got a whole page dedicated to the different types of external antennae and devices you can use on our website.

I’m on another carrier that uses the Telstra network, how does that affect my coverage?

We have a range of deals in place to provide our mobile network to other carriers as part of a commercial arrangement. However, these arrangements do not make our full suite of network technologies available to these Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).

To check what services are available on your carrier, contact your service provider’s customer support.

Why does my phone drop out in the car sometimes?

There are several reasons why a phone call may drop out.

If you’re taking a call on the go and it drops out, it may not be the network. It may be where you have the device situated in the vehicle.

Your phone should always be in a clear spot when you’re making a call. Instead of jamming it deep in your car’s centre console inside what is ostensibly a thick metal box, pop it into a cradle mounted to your window. That way, your phone has the best chance possible of reaching the network and vice versa.

Check the relevant laws in your state about using a smartphone in a cradle while driving before doing so, as in some states you may not be legally allowed to do so.

Coverage extension devices such as a Telstra Go Repeater can improve the coverage you receive in your car, especially in regional areas.

Regional |

How to stay connected with antennas and repeaters

By Luke Hopewell April 30, 2020

With many of us now working and learning from home we’re all relying on mobile connectivity more than ever. That means staying online is crucial, especially in regional and rural areas. That’s why we have a range of gear to keep you online when your signal is spotty. Here’s how to get the most out of everything from external antennas to repeaters when in regional and rural Australia.

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What influences your network coverage?

Like any mobile network, coverage on ours depends on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) your device, and whether an external antenna can be attached.

Where you’ll be using your device – whether it’s in a regional, rural or metropolitan area, indoors or out or even out-to-sea – also plays a role.

Finally, obstructions – such as buildings, trees, vehicles, hills and even building materials – can all reduce signal strength between your device and the cell tower.

Check out our coverage maps on Telstra.com and figure out where you can get the best coverage.

Ensuring the best signal strength in rural areas comes down to how you want to use the device out in the bush.

Getting mobile data coverage

Using a mobile data device – such as a smartphone or mobile broadband modem – is a great way to stay connected on the move.

Data rates are often improved by getting greater signal strength and quality to the device. This is achieved via the use of external antennas.

Using a patch cord, you can connect your device to either a medium-gain panel antenna where handheld coverage is available near the installation location, or a high-gain Yagi antenna where handheld coverage is not available near installation location to improve your service.

A panel antenna is most common, and can assist with mobile coverage inside buildings, especially when you’re on the edge of a coverage area. A 2.4-metre yagi antenna, meanwhile, is designed more for outdoor or mobile use.

If installing a yagi antenna, you should ensure it is pointed at the nearest cell tower. For best results, ensure the elements are facing vertically when installing, and the drain hole in the main element is facing downwards.

Also ensure your antenna is securely mounted with the support of a bracket, and installed in a way that it won’t be taken down by the elements.

Getting mobile data and voice coverage

Making sure you can do voice and data in the bush requires a little more than just an antenna and patch cord, however. If you’re within range of your Fixed Broadband Wi-Fi connection and have a compatible Telstra mobile, you can use Telstra Wi-Fi Calling. With Wi-Fi Calling, Your mobile simply uses your W-Fi network instead of the mobile network. So you can make and receive calls as you normally would.

Another way to get it is via a network coverage extension device like a repeater.

Repeaters amplify signal like a PA system. For the repeater to work correctly the antenna picking up mobile signal (your “microphone”, if you will) must be isolated from the antenna giving mobile signal (or “speaker” in this metaphor).

It’s important to note that boosters are illegal to own or operate on any network in Australia, and they can disrupt or even prevent others from making calls to emergency 000.

There are a range of devices and repeaters you can use to maximise your voice and data coverage in remote areas, including:

  • Telstra Mobile Smart Antenna (TMSA):
    • Can maximise both 3G and 4G at the same time
    • Consists of two units and can be used with or without external antenna depending on available coverage
    • Designed for in home use and requires 240V power point
  • Telstra Go Repeater:
    • Two types of Telstra Go. There is a mobile unit for a vehicle or a stationary unit for a home/business.
    • Only maximises 3G or 4G at one time, selectable via button on device.
    • Correct installation required
    • Requires separate High Gain Vehicle mount antenna for optimum performance
    • There is an app for both Apple or Android devices that enables checking the performance of the device. The app is called Wave by Nextivity and can be found on the Play Store or App Store.

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Blue Tick-certified

We’ve got all the latest and greatest smartphones on our network, and we make sure they’re rigorously tested before we stock them. The devices that perform the best in tough coverage areas are awarded our highest honour: the Blue Tick.

Our coveted Blue Tick signifies that a mobile device has been thoroughly tested and delivers superior voice coverage in rural and regional areas. Devices are tested for receiver sensitivity in a laboratory under controlled conditions and in rural areas on the Telstra Mobile Network, ensuring optimal call quality for customers.

Read more about what goes into making a phone Blue Tick-certified.

Things you need to know
Depending on device capability and available coverage, network coverage extension devices can improve 3G and 4G coverage on the Telstra Mobile Network. Not all network coverage extension devices allow direct connection to the handset or broadband device. External antenna accessories are only available for selected handset and broadband models. Please refer to the device manufacturer for specifications or contact a Telstra Store for more assistance.