Mobile phone services are available in urban areas, many regional areas and along a number of national and regional highways. Mobile phone services currently reach 99 per cent of the Australian population where people live. However, coverage is only available to around 25 per cent of the Australian landmass. Satellite mobile phone services cover 100 per cent of the Australian landmass and population.
(1) Check your mobile phone coverage
The Vodafone Hutchinson Australia networks currently cover more than 94 per cent of the Australian population. Optus claims its 3G network provides services to 96 per cent of the Australian population, and 97 per cent when using an external antenna. Telstra claims its Next G network now provides mobile coverage to 99 per cent of Australians.
Information on the coverage available from each of these carriers is found on their respective websites:
- Telstra (www.telstra.com.au/mobile/networks/coverage/maps.cfm)
- Optus (www2.optus.com.au)
- Vodafone Hutchison Australia (www.vodafone.com.au/tools/checker and www.three.com.au/coveragechecker)
There are other mobile phone service providers that resell services from these carriers. These include AAPT and Dodo Mobile (that resell services from Vodafone's network) and Virgin Mobile (that resells services from the Optus network).
Mobile phones have different capabilities and how well a phone performs on a network depends on both the network coverage and the particular device. Telstra labels with a 'blue tick' the Next G handsets that it recommends for areas of marginal handheld coverage to make it easier for consumers to choose the right handset. Handsets such as these are designed for use in areas where there is a weaker signal. Other service providers can provide advice on the best handsets for local conditions.
(3) Use an external antenna
External antennas can improve access to mobile phone services, particularly along country highways and in rural locations. Antennas range in size and types but fall into three categories:
- low gain antennas that plug into your handset to improve handheld reception
- medium gain antennas for use with handheld reception or fixed to a vehicle
- high gain antennas that are fixed to a vehicle to maximise coverage.
Contact your service provider to ensure you purchase the antenna that best suits your mobile phone handset and the area where you expect to use the phone. Be aware that not all mobile phones can connect to an antenna. When you upgrade your mobile phone handset, consider whether the new device can connect to any antenna or car kit you already have installed.
If you use a mobile phone when travelling, you must ensure that you comply with laws relating to the use of mobile phones in vehicles. For information on these laws, contact your state or territory government roads or transport agency.
(4) Think about getting a satellite phone
In areas that are sparsely populated or have little passing traffic, the only commercially viable option for mobile phone services is via satellite. Satellite mobile phone services cover the entire Australian landmass and population, including the external territories. They are available from a number of providers.
People living or working in areas without access to terrestrial mobile phone coverage may be eligible for assistance under the Australian Government's Satellite Phone Subsidy.
The new national emergency warning system, Emergency Alert, became operational on 4 December 2009. Emergency Alert will help warn the public in the event of a major emergency, and will add to a range of other warning measures including television and radio alerts, public address systems, doorknocking, sirens, signage and the internet.
Under Emergency Alert, warning alerts will be sent by recorded voice and text to landline and mobile phones (including satellite phones) based on an owner's billing address. Work is continuing to enable warning messages to be sent to mobile phones based on their physical location.
Several options exist for the use of mobile phones (including satellite phones) to call for help during an emergency. For more information, please visit emergency call services.
An alternative to telephone communications is the use of distress beacon units, such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) or Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs). These devices are designed to assist in an emergency by alerting rescue authorities and indicating location.
More recent models incorporate Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, enabling much more accurate determination of the location compared with earlier models.
These devices are not as limited by terrain as mobile phones and, by providing the location, will speed up any rescue effort. A variety of providers around Australia offer these for sale or hire.
Other technologies that could operate in areas without terrestrial mobile phone coverage include Citizens Band (CB) or ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio. Be aware that these technologies cannot connect to the telephone network.
When travelling in remote parts of Australia, complement the safety provided by access to mobile communications or distress beacon units by advising a responsible person of your trip details.