Antenna Selection Guide
This easy-to-understand guide has been designed to provide an introduction to improving signal on Australian networks. Before we begin it's important to understand that you will need three pieces of equipment to improve your mobile signal:
Firstly you’ll need an antenna. Similar to your TV, mobile phones and wireless broadband modems are connected to antennas. For increased signal the best position for your antenna is as high as possible outside your car or house - this means you'll need some cable to cover the distance from where you want to put the antenna, to where you want to use your phone or modem.
Next, you'll need something to connect your cable into your phone or modem. Modems are very easy - all good quality modems have an external antenna port, meaning all you need is a small adapter cable called a Patch Lead to go from the big connector on the cable to the tiny connector on your modem. Many phones also sport an external antenna port, most notably Telstra, Samsung, and Motorola brand phones. If your phone doesn't have an antenna port, don't worry you'll just need to use a Cradle.
If you don't like the idea of having to constantly tether your phone to a Patch Lead or Cradle, that's easy - you'll just need to connect your antenna to a Smart Repeater which will amplify and broadcast your antenna's signal throughout your house at full strength, giving your mobile phone a full five bars.
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There are four main factors that reduce mobile coverage:
Distance from the cell tower
Dense vegetation & buildings
It's no surprise mobile signal is reduced by distance (due to the Inverse-Square Law) from the cell tower, causing a gradual weakening of signal. In flat terrain, most cell towers have a usable range of about 40km before you'll need to use an external antenna. With a good quality external antenna it's possible to receive signal as far as 120km.
Due to the diffracting nature of radio waves (bending over hills, around objects) it’s important to understand that being able to see a cell tower is not the ‘be all and end all’ of obtaining signal - if you've travelled through a hilly area you'll no doubt have noticed you still have mobile reception despite being in a small dip or behind a rise in terrain. Large or sudden changes in terrain will however significantly impact phone coverage – in this type of scenario the important success factor is gaining height by raising an antenna into the air.
Dense sections of trees are notorious for diffusing signal. Typically one or two trees on their own don't tend to impact signal strengths too greatly, however it's analogous to 'death by a thousand cuts' where each tree absorbs or deflects a small amount of signal. The best way to mitigate this phenomenon is again by increasing height to minimise the path length that signal must pass through the offending vegetation.
Mobile signal is reduced when passing through buildings, trees, water, and even the air we breathe. The worst offenders are thick and conductive materials such as concrete, metals and foil-based insulation – this is often why signal can be weak indoors despite a strong signal outside.
For a comprehensive look at all the factors involved, have a read through our Poor Coverage Explained guide.