While most Australians enjoy the convenience of a good quality mobile service, reception can be challenging in some areas. So you may be interested in how your mobile reception can be improved. There are legal and illegal options—and it’s important that you know the difference.
What you can do
First, speak to your mobile phone provider about your service difficulties and how to improve reception.
Some providers offer products that you can use to improve mobile network coverage at home. These may include mobile phone repeater and femtocell technologies. In these circumstances, the product will be provided and configured in accordance with the network operator’s obligations and will meet Australian regulatory requirements.
For the best possible mobile phone reception in a vehicle, especially in rural areas, providers recommend using a mobile phone hands-free car kit with an external vehicle-mounted high-gain antenna. If you’re installing a mobile phone in a vehicle, you can maximise the performance and coverage by:
- buying a phone that can be connected to an external antenna
- installing a hands-free car kit with an external antenna
- powering the phone from your car instead of the built-in battery
- directly connecting the cable from the car kit to the antenna (avoid glass-mounted antennas) for maximum transmit and receive power
- getting the highest gain antenna available (the gain of the antenna indicates its capability to send and receive signals
- installing the antenna high up on the roof of your vehicle (this will provide maximum elevation and prevent any shielding of the signal by the body of the vehicle).
What you can’t do
Knowing which devices can be legally operated in Australia can be confusing—especially as some overseas suppliers provide misleading information. Two particular products—mobile phone repeaters and mobile phone boosters—are available from overseas suppliers but have strict restrictions for operation in Australia and often cannot be legally used.
Mobile phone repeaters
Some websites offer online tools to identify which mobile phone repeaters can be sold to Australian consumers. Despite this service, it is illegal to operate a mobile phone repeater without the written permission of your mobile phone provider.
Under Australian law, a person must not operate, or possess (for the purpose of operation) a radiocommunications device—such as a mobile phone repeater—unless they are authorised under either a spectrum, apparatus or class licence.
The frequencies on which mobile phone repeaters operate have been largely spectrum- or apparatus-licensed to mobile phone carriers. So, to use one, you’ll need carrier permission under a third-party arrangement (speak to your provider for further information).
When operated without carrier permission, mobile phone repeaters can cause harmful interference to other radiocommunications and trigger significant mobile network disruptions. This can occur because the device is not coordinated with other radiocommunications in the mobile network.
Under the Radiocommunications Act 1992, significant penalties may apply. For example, operating an unlicensed radiocommunications device may result in a fine of $165,000 or two years imprisonment. The interference offence provisions of this Act may also apply.
For more information, read our fact sheet on mobile phone repeaters.
Mobile phone boosters
Mobile phone boosters have been prohibited under the Telecommunications Act 1997 since 2001. In Australia, it is an offence to operate, possess (for the purpose of operation or supply) or supply mobile phone boosters.
Mobile phone boosters are banned because they pose a significant interference risk to mobile telecommunications networks. When a booster is used, increased power levels swamp nearby base stations to the point where they become ‘blinded’ to other calls. Coverage is reduced to a small percentage of the original area and, as more boosters are used, the coverage degradation worsens.
If you operate or supply a mobile phone booster, you may be fined up to $220,000. Other penalties may also apply.
For further information, read our fact sheet on mobile phone boosters.
For regular updates on compliance issues, follow @acma_operations on Twitter.