Rise In Mobile Signal Boosters Bad For Rural Aussie Communities

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.

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".


Image: TheBusyBrain / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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