Wireless Internet: How to Extend Your Range

Farm Beach near Coffin Bay, South Australia

Farm Beach, near Coffin Bay In SA. On the limits of mobile communications.

Lifestyle is a big motivation for many business owners.

For many, this means getting out in the sticks, where communications can be a challenge.

I know that for myself it means time at the beach at Coffin Bay, or sailing, or maybe heading up to Innamincka and the Channel Country. But, if it hits the fan, you need to be available, and I personally don’t feel comfortable if I’m offline for too long. The laptop always goes on holidays.

Having a wireless Internet connection helps a lot, but reception can be patchy, and it’s not helped by the dicky little antennas on those dicky little USB modems! They might be alright at the local cafe but they’re pretty useless in the bush.

USB modem

Convenient - except where signal strength is poor.


Extend the range of your NextG phone and wireless Internet

I don’t have any affiliation with Telstra, but I reckon their wireless coverage for phone and data is the probably the best. This does not mean it’s in any way complete.

If you keep an eye on the coverage maps you can stay connected in some fairly out of the way places. For example, on the way to Innamincka in the north-east corner of SA, you can pick up Telstra’s mobile coverage near Moomba. But even relatively close to mobile phone towers, the topography can make for a weak signal. In fact, in regional Australia, if we look at the geograhic distribution of coverage, rather than population based, poor or non-existent mobile reception is the rule.

How would you like good wireless Internet coverage over 100km from the nearest mobile tower?
How about in areas where your hand-held mobile is scraping to pick up a single bar! Or maybe even zero bars!

For a major improvement in reception, use a Yagi antenna


The Yagi AY9-12 antenna pictured above is equipped with a mobile phone adapter. (Click above for larger image.)

A Yagi antenna is a type of high gain directional antenna. One of these will greatly improve NextG mobile and wireless Internet reception in areas where signal strength is very weak, or even non-existent at ground level. There are highly portable and relatively cheap versions that you can take on trips.

One that I have found that works very well is the AY9-12 supplied by RFshop. Its only about 40cm long and is very convenient on holidays. This antenna will work with your NextG mobile (if it has an antenna plug) and your NextG wireless Internet (if you use a BigPond Network gateway modem NOT a USB stick modem.) For the technically minded it has a gain of 11dB and a frequency range of 800 -960MHz. NextG is 850 MHz.

Most people don’t know about this type of external antenna, and it’s not well promoted by Telstra. Usually if you ask Telstra about an external antenna they talk about some pathetic little desktop item with a magnetic base! (Even though they do now seem to supply and support Yagi antennas to an extent.)

Yagi versus an Omni-directional antenna

Being directional, the Yagi produces around twice the gain. Great for weak signals. It also means that you can use a much longer coaxial cable, and get the antenna higher.

What you will need

You will need the following, in addition to your Telstra Mobile Broadband account:

  1. A Yagi antenna such as the AY9-12 from RFShop with cable
  2. An adapter to connect the  cable to the modem. *If you buy the AY9-12, you will also need  an AD-A3FME3  adapter.
  3. Bigpond’s Network Gateway modem.

*SMA Plug (Male pin) to FME Plug (Male pin)

Here are the links for the antenna and adapter at RFShop. (I am not an affiliate of RFShop – but I will be asking them for a backlink!)

Here is the link for the Antenna

Here is the link for the Adapter

Setting up

I was going to call this section Installation but that’s probably too grandiose a term if you are camped out in the bush, with your Yagi up a tree!
All you have to do is connect the Yagi antenna cable to the Network Gateway using the adapter. You simply unscrew the small stick antenna marked Main on the modem, and connect the adapter here.

Network Gateway modem connected to the Yagi cable.

Yagi installed

The antenna is installed horizontally and may be clamped to any structure.

You then need to get the Yagi roughly pointed at the nearest mobile tower and you’re away. If you need some elevation here are some options:

  • Clamp it to an existing TV antenna support or other roof structure
  • Clamp it to the roof rack of your Fourby (only when stationary in camp)
  • Lash it to a branch of a convenient tree!
  • etc

You can adjust the direction the Yagi is pointed in until you get maximum signal strength. If you don’t know the direction of the nearest tower, just point it (horizontally) through 360 degrees until you get a signal.

The Yagi will work well enough even if not accurately aligned.

On the beach near Point Sir Isaac

On the beach near Point Sir Isaac. Amy likes to stay in touch when she's on holidays.

Costs and Practicality

The Yagi and adapter will set you back about $100. You may well have the BigPond Network Gateway modem/router already. If not you will have to get one from Telstra with a hard coded id unique to your account. You may also get it ‘free’ bundled with your wireless broadband account.

If you take the antenna on holidays you will have the additional modem and antenna to pack. The AY9-12 Yagi shown in this article is only about 40 cm long and doesn’t take up much space.

Installation is not particularly critical. I have often used one just lying on the table, or inside the cabin of a boat.

You will need a power supply for the modem. It is either 240V – from a standard power source or inverter – or you may be able to wire up a DC input (12V – 1.5A). (Don’t know much about the DC side – there is probably a right way and a wrong way to do this.)

Other Applications

I found out about the Yagi when I got sick of the latency issues with the satellite broadband that we used to have. We live outside the ADSL service area, and I figured that NextG broadband might work even though the signal was very weak outside, and non-existent inside my office.

Set up the antenna, and it worked like a charm. Full signal strength.

Anyone who uses wireless broadband at home or in the office and has reception problems should look at this option. Buildings – particularly those with with metal cladding – will attenuate your wireless communications. In this situation you will definitely benefit from installing an antenna like this.


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