How to get the best possible mobile phone service
This page is all about your rural, regional and remote mobile phone service or connection.
Continue reading, or click on the following links to head straight to:
- Getting a mobile phone connection to your rural, regional, or remote location
- How to prepare for the 3G shutdown to maintain a mobile connection and mobile service using 4G and 5G networks
- Boosting existing mobile coverage
How mobile phone coverage works
Mobile phones require reception, in the same way your television or radio does. While previously you might have used the signal bars on your phone screen to assess how much reception you have, nowadays this doesn’t actually mean a lot. Every device uses and displays signal bars differently, and fewer bars don’t necessarily indicate less service. For example, you could have four bars of 3G service, three bars of 4G service, and two bars of 5G service. The two bars of 5G service could be giving you better coverage overall. If you’re using a device to boost your service, the bars on your phone will always indicate full reception. The bars reflect the technology being used in the area.
Your ability to use your data and make, receive, and maintain calls is a better indication of the quality of your service. Also, on a map your location may appear to be in a good coverage area, there can be ‘black spots’ due to such as hills, thick tree coverage and buildings that block a physically clear view to the phone tower. Always confirm with your mobile provider that you can get coverage at your location before entering a contract.
If you’re in an area with minimum reception, you may wish to look at additional services and equipment to help you use a mobile phone in your region. See our pages on the following resources to help you.
- Wi-Fi Calling (Allowing you to use an existing Internet connection to send and receive mobile calls and SMS)
- Aerials, poles, and antennas (Going high enough above obstructions to find good reception)
- Mobile extenders (Boosting and extending barely-there reception into a reliable resource)
How to choose the best service provider for your needs
Make sure that the provider has coverage in the areas you plan to use your mobile phone connection (e.g., at home, work, school). You can check coverage maps on telcos’ websites or give location information to the salesperson in store or over the phone so they can check coverage for you.
Check coverage here:
Other companies offer phone plans using, or reselling, these three networks. It is important to check they supply voice services in your region. Not all resellers have full access to their suppliers’ networks. For example, phone plans purchased through Woolworths or Aldi may only use parts of Telstra’s 3G, 4G, and 5G networks.
You can also use websites like the ones below to look for plans and providers:
While comparison sites can be useful, they are often funded by external advertisers, which may include mobile phone networks. They may also not provide a comprehensive review of all available services in your area.
Understanding mobile phone network plans
Mobile phone plans are supplied by individual mobile service providers, and come in three main types:
Phone plans allow you to purchase a phone that avoids a high initial cost but is paid off over the life of the contract. A phone plan involves a customer entering a contract with a telecommunications provider. The contract usually sets out the:
- length of the contract
- monthly payment for the handset (phone)
- monthly calls and data plan, and
- any other services, such as insurance.
These are also called “Bring Your Own Device” or “BYOD” plans. You already own a phone, and only need a plan to cover all the calls and services you need each month. These can be contract plans, or month-by-month. The plan costs are usually lower as you are not paying off the cost of a handset in addition to the call and data plan.
You own a phone, or purchase a new one outright, and pay for services before you use them. These are often flexible plans, but you need to find out how to “top up” your phone if it gets low on credit and ensure the top-up method works for your lifestyle.
In the past, some people have been wary of changing providers for a better arrangement, however there are laws that protect your right to keep your number and transfer it to the new service provider. The process is simple and usually only takes a few hours.
All plans, except pre-paid plans, have a fixed monthly cost for your phone plan. This will be charged to you on the same day every month.
This cost will come with a certain level of inclusions – for example, a certain number of local calls, a certain number of text messages, an amount of data, and a quantity of national and international calls.
Usage above these set inclusions can incur additional costs, which are outlined in the contract documentation you sign with the provider. Ensure you read this carefully before accepting.
Pre-paid service cost:
In a prepaid plan, this is the cost of buying more credit for your phone which covers your inclusions. This can range from under $10 to over $100.
After you have used up all your credit, you are unable to make calls or use other services such as the internet, until you recharge your phone with new credit. You may still be able to receive calls depending on your plan and provider. Usually, you will still be able to call your service provider and emergency services.
Recharging your phone with credit can be done automatically at the same time each month, or manually purchased, again, depending on your plan and provider.
If you’re paying off the phone itself with your plan, this will be an additional cost, until you’ve paid off the phone.
Plans that come with a handset may offer insurance against loss/damage to the handset. This is an optional extra and customers should weigh up the additional monthly cost over the lifetime of the contract.
Plans may have extras for a few dollars a month, but they can add up and customers should be aware of the overall cost of plan extras.
You should carefully check all the possible fees that may apply with each plan as they differ with each retail service provider.
Some contracts are available month to month, while others have a minimum duration (such as one, two or three years). Longer contracts may not have upfront equipment and connection fees but will charge if you terminate the service early.
If you need assistance in understanding a contract, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has useful information on its website.
There’s no point paying for more data than you need, so it’s worth checking your current usage before buying a new plan.
Extras and deals:
It’s worth looking at the extras you can get with some phone plans – like streaming services, international roaming, and overseas calls. Some of these may be free, while others may have additional fees. Check the fine print of your contract carefully to determine what you’re signing up to.
Generally, all you need is the phone handset itself, plus the SIM provided to you by your service provider.
Insert the SIM into the charged phone and turn the phone on. It should immediately “see” the network, register itself, and be available for use immediately.
Upcoming phone network changes – 3G shutdown
Currently, there are three phone networks in use across brands – 3G, 4G and 5G. As 3G users are moved across to 4G and 5G with technology improvements, this creates space on the previous 3G spectrum which can be then used for the 5G network and its advanced technology. This means anyone currently using the 3G network needs to transition across to at least 4G capable devices before the network is switched off. This includes phones, tablets, devices, and equipment that extend mobile reception such as antennas.
Telstra intends to switch off their 3G network in June 2024. You can find out more about what these changes mean for you here.
Optus plans to shut down remaining 3G services from September 2024. You can find out more about these changes and what you should do here.
Vodaphone plan to shut down 3G services by the end of 2023. You can find out more about these changes and what you should do here.
If your mobile service is through another provider, and you’re not sure which network they use, we suggest contacting them to see if you need to make any changes to your devices. Each company or Telco is aware of which of their customers are using 3G enabled devices, which may include some farm machinery, older mobile phones, and some point-of-sale devices. They will contact those customers prior to any changes.
Boosting existing mobile coverage to improve your connection
If you can get some mobile coverage at your location (or close to your location), a network extension device (such as a passive antenna or active repeater (often just called repeaters or boosters)) may assist you in boosting your signal. Ensure any equipment you purchase is licensed, as illegal repeaters/boosters can interfere with the mobile network. Cel-Fi is currently the only brand in Australia licensed to operate on the Australian mobile spectrum. Units made by Nextivity under the Cel-Fi brand are also rebranded by Telstra as Telstra Go or T-Go.
The Regional Tech Hub can provide you with a free and independent connectivity report, which identifies mobile services available at your location, ways to optimise your service, such as antennas and extension devices, and the best direction to point equipment.