Ask LH: What Are My Options For Improving Home Mobile Reception?

Dear Lifehacker, I remember reading (I think it was Lifehacker) about a device from Optus that, if you have poor reception, allows you to divert you mobile through your home internet. Have you guys heard of anything of this kind? Cheers, Bad Reception

Dear Bad Reception,

Your memory is correct: we wrote earlier this month about Optus' launch of femtocell technology, and you can read the details on the original post. The Optus scheme is currently only available in metropolitan NSW and Queensland, but is likely to extend to other locations over time. Vodafone also has a similar scheme, though right now that's only available to business customers.

We haven't yet had the chance to test either of these options yet, but one point is worth making. A fairly common reaction to this technology is along these lines: "Why should I pay extra and use my own home broadband just to fix mobile reception? That's the responsibility of the network, and I shouldn't have to pay more." That's understandable, but slightly unfair.

If you're on a network which works badly everywhere you go, then you've definitely got grounds for complaint. But if you have bad reception just in your home, that's more likely to be because of a quirk of architecture, rather than because the network itself is a problem. In those circumstances, having an option to ensure your mobile phone does work when you're at home could be a better choice than giving up altogether, especially if the network suits you in other locations and you're happy with the price.

Cheers Lifehacker


Comments

    Hi - I have used skype on an s60 nokia and (at the moment) on a low powered android phone. I didn't find the experience perfect but it worked. It seems a bit funny to use skype on the phone when you can just sit down at a home computer and use it :)

    Stephen

      It seems a bit funny to sit down in front of the PC to use Skype when you could just pick up the phone. :)

    I’m slightly confused by this product – does it extend coverage for voice calls, or just merely re-transmit your broadband data service as 3G for your mobile to utilise? (the previous article on the device seemed to suggest the latter).

    In regard to fixing/improving reception issues; I posted a similar solution to what I’ve offered below on another article (http://goo.gl/0GwCR) – but I’ll reword it to make a bit more sense. Here’s my take on how to improve your availability to incoming calls if you have no reception at home (re: “with Vodafone”), and have an iOS/Android/other VoIP compatible mobile handset:

    1. Find a cheap/free VoIP provider who provides an Australia DID number. A quick search of whirlpool.net.au will land you with VSP’s anywhere from $5/month upwards (yes I know this means spending money, but it’s still cheaper than buying Optus’ product, and this solution is available anywhere with WiFi)
    2. Connect your handset to your new VoIP account. Setup to only connect via WiFi. This will allow any incoming calls on your VoIP DID to go directly through to your mobile while connected to your broadband connection.
    3. Set you call forwarding settings to forward all calls to your VoIP DID number whenever “no service”. This will allow incoming calls to be automatically re-routed whenever the mobile signal is lost at home.

    As an added bonus, if your VSP provides voicemail on your VoIP account, you’ll also have the added bonus of still being able to receive voicemail when you’re legitimately out of service and WiFi isn’t available.

    The obvious con to this is that you still can’t send SMS or dial out using your mobile account and take advantage of incentives like free calls to other phones on the same network etc. However you will be able to enjoy the low rates offered by your VSP,

    Admittedly I’m actually yet to implement this myself yet – but with my VoIP account currently laying dormant, and no improvement to reception at home in sight, I think I’ll doing this VERY shortly.

      Wow, full of grammatical errors - it shows its my first day back at work after a long weekend. I hope my actual PAID work isn't as sloppy as that post.

      Sam,

      It is literally a really small cell tower that uses your home broadband for backhaul. That means that when in range, any mobile phones registered for the service (not anyone can attach, only mobile phones that have been allowed) will "camp" on the femtocell, and inbound/outbound calls plus SMS and 3G Data will all be carried via the femtocell instead of the regular "macro" network.

      When you leave the range of your home, the phone is handed back to the macro network (although I am unsure if "seamless" in-call handoffs are supported by Optus's product at this time).

      Hope that helps,

      Rob

    If you're in a remote area (like my parents) and have generally bad reception - and rely on the mobile network for your internet as well as mobiles - the femtocell approach won't work for you. What might work better is a 'cellular repeater', which amplifies/re-broadcasts all the packets it receives. you can put it somewhere with better reception and it'll cover most of your house easily.

    If you're just after mobile coverage, It's often easier to pick up an external antenna (if supported) or buy a more sensitive phone. Telstra classes their handsets as 'blue tick' if they have exceptionally good reception, which can make a huge difference for patchy Next-G coverage.

    I don't know of any other manufacturers or carries with something a 'blue tick' equivalent, but they may well exist.

      Just so you know while repeaters do exist and cost around the $1000 mark there are current none that are legal to use in Australia. If you are found to be using one (and I hear that they are actively looked for) you are liable for a $220,000 fine.

      More info available here: http://telcoantennas.com.au/site/guidetorepeaters

    I have an issue with this statement:

    But if you have bad reception just in your home, that’s more likely to be because of a quirk of architecture, rather than because the network itself is a problem.

    There's a cell site 1.6km (give or take) from my house, where all current 2G and 3G networks are represented. However, the only two 3G networks that work properly inside the house are the ones that were built on behalf of Telstra (those being 3GIS - UMTS2100 and NextG - UTMS850).

    This doesn't seem like a "quirk of architecture" or even laws of physics. It simply seems that the other network doesn't operate in a manner which is user-friendly.

    Thankfully, 2G fallback works properly on the Optus and Vodafone networks - which is just as well, given how often it comes into play.

    Also, I'm a little surprised that neither Optus nor Vodafone have deployed UMA.

      Peter,

      You chose one part of the quote, you avoided the part where the author said that if it is everywhere it's an issue with the network.

      As an example I get poor reception in my townhouse, my parents house around a kilometer away I get perfect reception.

      To use your example, there could easily be people at the same distance from the tower who have perfect reception, depending upon alignment of the mobile tower's antennae.

      Also, noone in Australia has UMA enabled, including Telstra who you (conveniently?) left out of your statement.

    OK. So what if the mobile cell antennas just happen to reside on the top of my building so ?that I always get full reception or no reception. This is obviously due to interference/tower switching. So any idea on how I can stabilise a connection in this situation?

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