‘Our mobile coverage plan was not up to scratch!”

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grey nomads in mobile phone shock
Dianne and Ross had a mobile phone coverage shock

Most grey nomads heading into remote Australia are keenly aware that keeping in constant contact with the outside world can be a challenge.

For those not travelling with satellite communication, there is generally an understanding that there will be black spots along the way where it will be impossible to get mobile reception. However, the real problems can come when travellers find there is no service where they expected one to be.

Grey nomads Ross and Dianne McDonald were shocked recently when, on a trip to Lawn Hill, they found they were unable to make or receive calls in many places between Roma and Longreach despite expecting to be able to do so.

The couple had signed up to use a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) which basically buys network service from Telstra, Optus or Vodafone and then sells it on at a discounted rate. In theory, they should have been able to access the Telstra network in that part of the world.

However, MVNO coverage may differ from the main network in some regional areas. Ross and Dianne said they spoke to other travellers who had experienced similar issues. Happily, the couple did not find themselves in an emergency situation, but they say have learnt an important lesson for their future Outback adventures.

As experienced caravanners, the couple spend the vast majority of their time free camping and only use caravan parks now and again.

“We love free camps and being able to have campfires,” said Ross. “But, when free camping, it’s always the water that brings you back to towns!”

The couple bought their first van – a hail-damaged 2002 Jayco Heritage poptop – back in 2006. After a number of ‘shortish long’ trips, the McDonalds retired in 2011 and decided it was time for the ‘big one’.

As their Jayco had no toilet or shower, they upgraded to a Golden Eagle Eureka van with ensuite … and it was time to live the dream.

However, like so many new long-term travellers, they soon realised they were making some basic mistakes.

“We found that the first few years we took too much gear … satellite TV, Engel fridge, barbecue, annexe etc,” said Ross. “As we travelled more, we learnt to take less.”

And the open road still beckons, offering new lessons as it does so. “We are looking forward doing the lap again next year,” said Ross. “And we’ll be using the real Telstra network.”

  • Do you use an MVNO network on your travel? Have you ever had issues with coverage? Comment below.

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17 Responses to ‘Our mobile coverage plan was not up to scratch!”

  1. We’ve been FullTime Caravanning for 16 years now and always used Telstra, finding it heaps better than others using Optus etc.
    Except in the most remote outback areas between towns we’ve had good coverage 70 to 80%of our travels around the country.
    I have a 9db aerial on the windup Winegard TV antenna on the van and a 6db on the Ute, both for improved phone and internet signal.
    This suits us fine for what we require.

  2. First off I’m no expert but would be interested in follow up comments as I’ve recently retired.

    I don’t know of any single MVNO that covers all of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Maybe roaming was turned off on the phone/plan. Maybe the mobile phone doesn’t support all the radio bands. I know Telstra recommend a SMALL number of phones for use out in the bush (… Telstra Blue Tick phones offer better coverage in rural and regional areas).

    I’ve read that ALDI/plans may not give you full access to all bands but I thought that might affect data and not calls.

    The MVNO should provide a coverage map of their service, I’d check that for the places in question. How do the couple know that others had network access at exactly the same locations (they weren’t in a black spot).

    If in trouble and your phone can’t access a network, turn it off and on at the switch (flight mode may or may not work when toggled).

    Plenty of reasons for issues but without facts it’s hard to diagnose (which MVNO & plan?, roaming on?, which mobile phone?, exact location etc)….

    If you wanted complete coverage, wouldn’t you want a satellite phone, I don’t know the costs but Telstra is not cheap and the extra coverage might be worth it and possible extra cost to you but it sounds like its only good for calls and not data.

    For emergency only use wouldn’t an EPIRB be better?

  3. We always had bad coverage from Telstra and since the change over it’s got worse and I’m from country NSW Lake Cargelligo originally but if you plan your trips outback plan them well and alway to someone where you are going and for how long but if coverage is none existent then take a satellite phone for backup

  4. Ross and Dianne, this is not only with MVNO, I have Telstra 4G and we constantly travel from Wodonga in Northeast Victoria to Darwin. We go through Dubbo then to Burke and up that way to Longreach then Mt Isa and across to Darwin from there, ensuring that we stay on the black top the whole way. I can tell you that Telstra is patchy at best, you usually get reception when you are within 10km of any larger town and then nothing until the next large town is in sight. Considering that the network carriers brag about having over 90% of the country covered they are way off the mark, I would venture to say that we would be lucky to receive coverage for 30% of the trip. Until such time that the government takes control and insists that these organisation deliver what they promise, we will never know where and when we will have receptions.

    • I thought the same Shane but it is 90% of Australias population not 90% of Australia

  5. I use telstra Australia wide on a contract. There is always black spots but if finances are not a issue telstra has a product called CEL-FI it’s function is to find a one bar signal magnifying it to 4-5 bar. Once signal is established you will then have access to wifi.

  6. I take a small Personal Location Beacon (with trip details logged on the AMSA website) and also a two way radio, Yes, mobile coverage is patchy, but I dont know why that would surprise folk, its a huge state…but, the big surprise for me was having mobile coverage at Lawn Hill (Boojimulla

  7. Telstra best the others just don’t cut it

  8. We changed one of our mobile phones to Telstra before travelling and kept the other with iinet. Iinet was giving us much better coverage, after complaining to Telstra and getting a new SIM card which made no difference we discovered it was the phone.Even though a 3 and 4G phone the aerial was not strong enough.

  9. We are from NZ where Vodafone is the best. We signed on to Vodafone here told them we were going to travel around OZ. They sold us a product they new would be useless. We had no service for 3 months in the out back. They did let us cancel our contract but it was stressful.

  10. There are still a lot of properties in Australia (like ours) that don’t have mobile coverage – many of us only have landlines because we spent thousands of dollars to run a cable in. Any one that is travelling in totally remote areas should carry PLB’s (similar to EPIRBS) and HF Radio. They save lives and allow quick communication to be established in emergencies.

  11. I have lived in the biggest state for 70 years and have never expected service here to be as good as the Eastern States so it doesn’t bother me if I can’t get a signal,in saying that things are getting better. I have stayed with Telstra and each contract I get more value. 31GBs wifi data unlimited phone calls and texts $94 p/m. I’m happy!

  12. We used the WOOLWORTHS network because it is supposed to be based on the Telstra network. While visiting Thallon in western Qld we had no coverage but the locals were all happily chatting on their phones. Seems only 4G coverage areas are included. 3G areas not covered!

  13. If you are using a telco that use Telstra as it’s backbone you will not get the same coverage as Telstra, They wholesale the service to these telco’s and the service is choked.

    The only way to get full Telstra coverage is to have a Telstra account.

    I worked in Telstra call centres for a couple of years and have had dealings with these issues.

    • Not quite right Kev, yes Telstra does wholesale it’s network to these virtual mobs but they can choose what amount of coverage they want, less is cheaper of course, so most don’t want to pay to cover remote/regional areas, Boost which is fully telstra owned does cover the whole network but doesn’t offer the same bandwidth/speed. As the saying goes, no such thing as a free lunch.

  14. Optus MVNO $22.50 per month, unlimited calls and text and 10GB. Telstra is the better network but its very expensive (which is why people avoid it if they can).

    3G/4G are for DATA, not phone calls.

  15. go to any communities in Australia and I guarantee you will get coverage

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