Understanding Coverage Maps

Mobile service providers all publish coverage maps on their websites which can be checked to determine what kind of mobile coverage you can expect at any given location.

It’s important to note that coverage maps often refer to the percentage of the population covered, rather than the geographic area covered.

In Australia, most people live in cities and will experience good coverage most of the time. As Australia is a vast country with population clustered in coastal cities there remain areas of rural and remote Australia where coverage can be sparse and other technologies such as satellite will need to be considered.

Common terminology for coverage maps

AMTA members and mobile network operators, Optus, Telstra and VHA have agreed to use the following common terminology to describe the three standard levels of coverage to customers

These three levels can be applied to various types of coverage e.g. 3G/4G/5G and this is shown on carrier’s online coverage maps. Coverage maps may also indicate coverage based on the customer’s device type.

 

Levels of coverage Explanation
Level 1

INDOOR

This is the type of coverage a customer can expect when using a device indoors with a quality of reception predicted for that location and factoring in typical building penetration losses of the area. Typically building penetration losses that will apply will vary depending on the urban density of the location i.e. dense urban areas have higher losses than suburban. Building penetration losses can also vary considerably based on building materials used e.g. brick, tin, timber as well as size and finishing of windows. Metal tinted windows, for example, will increase losses.

 

Level 2

OUTDOOR

This is the type of coverage and quality of reception a customer can expect when using a device outdoors with typical handheld use, based on an elevated upright standing, head height position.

Factors that will impact on predicted coverage will include local environment e.g. local clutter, vegetation, topography of the area, as well as personal variables such as how the device is held relative to the head and the direction facing.

Level 3

EXTERNAL ANTENNA

This is the type of coverage expected when a device is augmented using an external antenna or other coverage extension device that utilises an external antenna. The predicted quality of coverage will be based on a typical small omni-directional external antenna that can be readily vehicle mounted, at a height consistent with top of vehicle. Note that larger higher gain antennas and increasing antenna height can increase range of coverage.

 

Network guarantees also protect consumers

Coverage maps are an important guide for customers who are purchasing or considering purchasing a mobile service, but it is the customer’s actual experience that is paramount. Australia’s mobile network operators all offer their customers a network guarantee that allows them to exit a new plan without penalty. This means that when a customer’s experience in terms of reception/coverage does not match their expectations; customers are not held to their contract and can take advantage of the network guarantee provided by their mobile network operator.

Customers also benefit from the guarantees provided to them by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which entitles customers to repair, replacement or refund of their mobile devices or services and consumers can read more about the rights that apply under the ACL at the ACCC’s website.

Options available for improving coverage

Customers should always contact their service provider in relation to any concerns about reception or coverage as their service provider is best placed to offer advice about how coverage can be improved and can help troubleshoot what may be causing any problems and help find a solution.

For example, your mobile service provider can provide advice regarding recommended handsets or devices that will best meet your requirements, depending on how and where you will be using your service. In some cases, they may recommend an additional antenna or other equipment for your mobile device if you will be using it in rural or remote areas of Australia.

Your mobile service provider may also be able to provide tools to enhance reception around your home, office or other location. Sometimes this will involve installing a car kit, an antenna or other specialised equipment that would improve the reception.

While there are ways you might be able to safely and legally enhance your mobile coverage if needed, it’s also important to remember that mobile phone boosters are banned because they can cause significant interference to mobile networks and coverage. Similarly, mobile repeaters can only be used if they have been authorised for use by your mobile carrier. This is because unauthorised use can actually lead to interference with mobile networks. You should check with your mobile service provider before you purchase a mobile repeater. You can read more about the rules relating to boosters and repeaters using the search engine on the ACMA’s website (www.acma.gov.au).

Before purchasing a mobile service consumers should consider the following:

  • Most Australians live in cities and the majority of people will experience good coverage most of the time. It’s still important for consumers to carefully check carrier’s coverage information before choosing a mobile service, particularly consumers who live in rural and remote areas of Australia, to ensure the coverage offered will meet your needs.
  • Even in cities, buildings can affect mobile reception so you may wish to discuss with mobile service providers whether the service will work in buildings you spend time in, such as your home or office.
  • Mobile carriers sometimes make statements about the ‘percentage of population covered’ by their network. This percentage doesn’t refer to the area of Australia that is covered by the mobile network but rather it’s the percentage of population who reside in covered areas, keeping in mind that there may still be large parts of Australia (with very few inhabitants) that are not covered by some mobile networks.
  • So, before you purchase a mobile service, make sure you check the mobile service provider’s coverage map. Most providers have interactive coverage maps available online for you to query. Remember that while coverage maps are a useful tool, they are intended as a guide and you should always check with the mobile service provider about detailed coverage information for the locations where you intend to use your mobile.
  • There are many factors that can impact on the quality of reception and mobile network performance you may experience at any given time e.g. surrounding buildings, nearby trees, topography, bad weather, interference from nearby electrical devices, other mobile users using the same base station, or even a mobile device fault/incompatibility. It always pays to talk to your mobile service provider if you are experiencing persistent problems.

How mobile networks work

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, work by sending and receiving low power radio signals. The signals are sent to and received from antennas that are attached to radio transmitters and receivers, referred to as mobile network base stations.

Mobile devices will not work without base stations, which must be carefully located to allow more people to use mobile telecommunications from more locations.

A mobile network is designed on a “cell grid” basis covering a geographic area. The number of base stations required for a given area will depend on the terrain and number of people using mobile devices. The more people using mobile devices, the more capacity is required and this usually means more base stations closer together.