Picture from Wikimedia Commons
There's certainly plenty of mobile phones in any Australian airport. At the security queue, there's barely a person who won't hand up a mobile before getting scanned. And that's quite understandable: Travelling is one of those scenarios where a mobile phone becomes even more useful than normal. In any event, the sheer number of mobiles in Australia pretty much dictates that most people inside an airport will have one.
As such, it's understandable that getting a signal in an airport might be difficult, up to a point. After all, you're competing with lots of other individuals. However, you're not in a location where it should be particularly difficult to add additional capacity if needed. After all, no one is going to complain about the aesthetic impact of more towers or equipment. Yes, there'll be a need to ensure no interference with operations, but given that we've just seen approval for on-plane mobile services, that's hardly an insurmountable barrier.
Given all those factors, I remain amazed at the sheer inadequacy of mobile signals in most Australian airports. This is particularly evident if you try and use a 3G mobile dongle to hook up your PC and do something while you wait for your plane. Despite the fact that advertisements for phone networks often feature all over the airport, when you try to connect up your signal will inevitably slow to a crawl.
My biggest nightmare location for this is actually the train stations at Sydney airport. Next G does OK, but both Optus and Vodafone struggle to get even a GPRS signal. No matter what device I'm using, time-outs become the norm, and the frustration level rises because I know there's doubtless a bunch of email and comments and RSS items to get through, and it's not like there's anything better to do while you're waiting around for a train.
Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of obvious alternatives. The Virgin and Qantas airport lounges offer free Wi-Fi, but that's not an option for everyone and can also be patchy in practice. The best solution is arguably in Adelaide, which has free airport-wide Wi-Fi courtesy of Internode. But I can't help thinking that as smart phones get ever more common, the mobile infrastructure at our airports is going to need some serious upgrading.
Got your own airport signal horror stories or tactics to get a better connection? Share them in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is always impatiently waiting for the "You can now switch your mobile phones on" announcement. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.