Use Of Banned Mobile Signal Boosters On The Rise In Rural Australia

Use Of Banned Mobile Signal Boosters On The Rise In Rural Australia

Other than waving your phone in the air like a Star Trek tricorder, there’s not much you can do if you’re getting poor reception on your phone. In metropolitan areas, it’s a brief annoyance, but head out to more rural locations and crappy signals are a way of life. Consumer-level signal boosters can provide some relief, however, not only are they illegal in Australia, but selfish to use, killing reception for other nearby users.

Image: Steve Snodgrass / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

This post was originally published on Gizmodo Australia.

A story by the ABC’s Mark Bennett details how signal boosters are a growing problem locally, especially in Western Australia. Telcos have the ability to detect when such devices are in use, but it’s up to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to enforce the law:

[Boyd Brown, Telstra Country Wide area manager] said there had been a spike in the number of illegal devices being installed in rural Western Australia.

“For the last 12 months on average we’re detecting about a device a week, prior to that 12 months ago in the previous 18 months we detected about 50 units, so it is increasing,” he said.

“These are the ones that we are actually seeing, there’s a lot more out there.

The article mentions that while the user of the booster enjoys the benefits of better reception, they can interfere with mobile networks, drowning out actual cell towers. The ACMA website explains why this is a bad thing, beyond the obvious inconvenience:

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.

Because access to the network by other service users may be severely restricted, calls to emergency services may be disrupted.

ACMA is apparently policing the issue, but Bennett writes that while the organisation has the ability to punch out fines of $255,000, since 2013, it has “yet to prosecute anyone”.

Illegal mobile phone signal boosters causing problems for other network users [ABC]


  • I’ve looked at this since the reception within our house is poor (edge of cell and thick walled villa) and I have to take work calls outside business hours (including nights and weekends).

    There are some permitted active repeaters in Aus, but these tend to be pretty expensive. A cheaper option is a passive antenna relaying the signal within the house. These also need specialist equipment and the internal range is very short.

    The cheapest feasible option I’m currently using is to leave the phone by a window that gets tolerable signal and then use a bluetooth headset and/or speaker.

  • This doesn’t surprise me at all. I live in a rural area and have bad reception similar to rickinoz, I too have to leave my phone near the front window to get any reception.

    At close to $900 to buy a legal booster through Telstra, I can understand why some people are doing it illegally. Maybe if Telstra and the other communication companies reduced the price there wouldn’t be as many illegal boosters out there.

    • I am one of those stupid ones that purchased the $1000 Cel-Fi booster complete with 16dbi Yagi antenna and Zip, Nadda ,Jack [email protected]$ reception still, it is simply a matterof not enough coverage in my area, Bridgetown Western Australia, So the Boosters (Telstra approved ) are not the solution…

  • If the telcos aren’t going to fix a problem, then you can’t blame these guys for doing it themselves.

    A few years ago we fitted a repeater to the roof of a warehouse / office in the port of Brisbane. It worked brilliantly, meaning the several hundred staff could use their mobiles -generating revenue for the telcos. Then of course, Telstra came long and threatened to sue unless it was removed. It then took them a further 2 years to actually increase coverage in that area.

  • typical that they’d target the bad users rather than fix the problem, that is their crappy, patchy service.

  • I’ve considered buying one of these for my parents, who have terrible reception at home (in WA as it happens). The nearest road or neighbouring property is over a kilometre away in any direction.

    They’re fans of obeying the law, so despite the fact they wouldn’t affect anyone else they just continue to suffer through terrible reception.

  • If Telstra and the Federal Government would open their eyes and look at where people live and allocate tower resources accordingly, rather than focussing on prioritising coverage along highways this problem would go away pretty quickly. Or, simply permit the use of decently-priced signal repeaters — $50 worth of kit and Telstra wants you to pay them $900 for their version so you can have the privilege of using their network. No wonder their reputation in the country is so bad.

  • I know price is a large part of the problem here why the cheaper boosters are being bought. A comparison is a $300 system from a UK company claiming to be in Australia vs a local distributor called Powertec selling the legal Cel-Fi version for $900. It is a big shame the legal version is not cheaper so more us can afford it. However from someone in a rural area that has experienced what it is like for a local tower to go done because someone has bought an illegal booster, you can see why they need to police these illegal devices. I’m hoping a legal low cost booster is in the cards and have contact the distributor above to find out.

  • the telcos pay millions for the spectrum licence and will jump on any boosters. The boosters are usually poor quality and can cause problems. UHF/SHF gear is not cheap.

  • Sigh

    As with illegal downloads, they piss and moan about users rather than fixing the problem they’ve created by neglecting rural areas. If they won’t provide a reasonable service people will always find a way around it themselves. Apply this logic to any and all so called “illegal activity” and you’ll find that it’s always the provider shooting themselves in the foot.

    Illegal drugs for example: trying to stop people from what they want to do and they’ll just turn to the illegal alternatives which almost always cause a worse problem. I.e theft, no health standards or quality control, no specific information on harm reduction = crime, murder, overdose etc.

    Idealists will never accept reality and real solutions to real problems.

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