Monday 14 October 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problem

 

Phone frustration: a mobile repeater service can boost the signal to all areas of your home
Phone frustration: a mobile repeater service can boost the signal to all areas of your home
Surface Laptop 2
Fitbit Charge 3
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question The mobile reception in my house is awful. I live in a recently-built terraced house that's over three stories. The signal is okay upstairs but terrible downstairs. I hate having to walk up two flights of stairs to make or take a call. Is there something I can do to improve it myself?

Answer

Yes, but it will depend on what operator you're with and possibly what your local authority allows you to do with the exterior of your house.

For example, if your mobile contract is with Eir (formerly Meteor), you might be able to avail of its 'Wi-Fi calling' service. In a nutshell, this lets you make and take calls (and texts) using your home Wi-Fi service. This effectively converts the calls and texts into an Eir mobile format. You don't have to have Eir Wi-Fi to use it, either. However, you do have to be using a compatible smartphone (which is most new ones). The advantage here is that you're more likely to have a strong Wi-Fi signal in your home - especially on the ground floor, where your router is - than a strong mobile signal.

The bad news is that this service isn't available on Vodafone, Three, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile or any of the others.

If that four-fifths of the market includes you, you could try a 'mobile repeater' device. This basically pulls an available signal from outside your house inside the walls. But this is where local authority rules come in. You need to mount a box or antenna to the exterior of your home (the roof is usually the best place to do this). A cable then runs down and through your wall into a second box inside your home, which relays the boosted mobile signal around the house.

These devices cost anywhere from €250 upwards depending on how large an internal area you want to cover and how many mobile network bands you want to include. This latter element is important. You need to know what frequency (3G, 4G and so on) your outside signal is before you buy the box as some of them are custom-made for certain frequencies and bands. (In this day and age, mobile operators still don't have standardised 3G or 4G signals across their entire network.)

You'll also need someone to install it unless you really know what you're doing.

So it's highly advisable to tread carefully on this one.

An added element of confusion rests in the legality of the boxes themselves. Up until recently, mobile repeaters were illegal to use in Ireland because they interfered with regulated mobile operator signals.

Earlier this year, Ireland's telecom regulator legalised some mobile repeater devices. However, many that you see for sale from online stores - even ones targeting Irish shoppers - are still illegal under Irish law. That doesn't mean that they won't work, but it's inadvisable to buy one.

One range of mobile repeaters you can buy is sold by Stella Doradus (which is based in Waterford) at StellaDoradus.com. Again, get some advice if you're not technically minded, as there are multiple options which cost up to €1,499.

Because I don't know what network you're with, the one I'm recommending below covers all networks and common frequencies. But it's pricey at €899.

Even if you get past all these technical and legal tests, there is one final hurdle you have to clear: your local authority. You will need to check whether you're allowed to mount a mobile repeater antenna or device on the outside of your home. Local authorities have tightened up in recent years on gadgets attached externally to personal dwellings. For example, it's common now for someone living in an urban setting to receive a letter from their council requiring the removal of a satellite dish. While alarm boxes rarely run into such problems, it's worth checking with your local authority what the rules are.

If you're not in a position to use either of these technical solutions (Wi-Fi calling or mobile repeaters), you may still be able to improve your communications without a full mobile signal.

If you have an iPhone, you can text and call other people with iPhones solely using your home's Wi-Fi connection. For texts, this happens almost automatically if you have 'iMessage' switched on in your iPhone's settings (and the caller has a similar set-up).

For calls, there's always FaceTime, an iPhone-only feature. This Skype-like system is popular among families whose members mostly use iPhones.

However, if it's another type of smartphone in use, you can still avail of universal apps such as WhatsApp. This works over Wi-Fi and can also be used for calls. If the person you're calling also has WhatsApp (in Ireland, they probably do - most phone-owners have it installed), you can text and call them without the mobile network simply by inputting their number into your WhatApp contacts list.

Recommendation: StellaHome-LGW RP1002 triband repeater kit (€899 from StellaDoradus.com)

Email your questions to caomahony@independent.ie

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Surface Laptop 2
 

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