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Surviving Without Phone Signal: How To Get Around When You’re Off The Grid

Lost without a phone signal? You’re not the first to get unlucky – and won’t be the last to survive and tell the tale! So don’t worry! No really, we can’t stress this enough, worrying that you are lost without a phone signal will add to your anxiety and make it harder for you to drive safely, diligently follow road rules and road signs – which may just be your saving grace.

We know this is easier said than done, particularly if you are an anxious driver, late for a meeting, or are driving out in the bush, but worrying often blows the problem out of proportion.

Accept the situation for what it is and focus on either getting better reception or use the following tips to navigate yourself home safely.

No, we aren’t talking about using the sun and stars – although if you can, good for you! At Novus Autoglass, we believe every Aussie driver should learn a few outback survival tips. To learn how to navigate your way around roads and highways when you’re lost without a phone signal, carry on reading!

What Causes Bad Cell Reception in Australia?

If you’re travelling through remote areas of Australia, likely, you’ll eventually be without phone reception, sometimes for several hours in a row. There might simply not be enough cell towers in the area – or they’re too far away, which probably won’t change until you reach the next town.

Reception issues may also occur if the signal is blocked by obstacles, such as buildings and other man-made structures or the natural landscape – think mountains, caves and thick vegetation. This can cause the signal to be weak or disappear completely.

Another factor – although less likely to affect cell reception in the outback, is the number of people relying on the signal of the same cell tower. The number of people connected can drastically affect the quality of your signal.

Normally, a few thousand users aren’t a problem, but if there’s a sudden spike in connections – which might occur at music festivals and sports events or other large gatherings, it might not be able to cope and your reception can be spotty as a result.

Tips for Improving Your Cell Phone Signal on Car Trips

1. Pull Over

If you’re driving and notice your signal drop, pull over and stop. Using a mobile phone while driving multiplies your risk of having a serious car crash by four. This is why we are advocates of pulling over before touching your phone. It’s the safest option and doesn’t put yourself or others at risk. Not to mention that it’s illegal to hold your phone in your hand while driving. Once you’ve safely stopped the car, your phone will have an easier time getting a signal too.

2. Step out of the vehicle

If stopping is not enough and you’re parked in a safe spot, exit the vehicle to remove obstructions that may be blocking the cell signal. You might not suspect it, but even your car’s metal frame and coated glass can form an effective barrier that prevents much of the cell phone signal from reaching your phone.

3. Try your call again in a few minutes

Have a little patience. As you’re travelling in remote areas, your coverage will constantly be handed off from one tower to the next. Likely, any dead spots between two towers won’t last very long and once you continue your journey, you’ll soon pick up a new signal from the next tower.

4. Increase your elevation

If none of these tips has helped, try to find higher ground – but make sure not to stray too far from your safely parked vehicle. Even a slight elevation or small hill can improve your chances of getting cell phone reception, as cell signals operate on line-of-sight.

5. Try switching from 4G to 3G

Last but not least, switch off your LTE service to see if you can get a better connection. Switching from 4G to a 3G or perhaps even the 2G network may also improve your coverage.

How Accurate Is My Phone GPS Without Data?

GPS is an essential technology that works on almost all mobile phones. Pixel, Samsung, HTC and iPhones, all come with built-in GPS. But what happens to the GPS function if you don’t have data? GPS technology itself doesn’t need the internet, as it directly draws on satellite information and free of charge at that.

But, GPS does use apps like Google Maps or Maps on iPhone to show you your location. To use GPS when you’re in a remote location without cell phone reception, you need to have downloaded the offline version of whatever map application you use. Most current smartphone apps measure GPS coordinates to tenths of a second, which is accurate for up to 11 meters – even without reception.

My Cellphone Has No Signal, How Can I Navigate?

Let’s say you want to go backcountry hiking, and need a map to navigate around the place. What do you do? With weak or no cellular service, offline phone GPS will come to your rescue. Just listen to Ed Hewitt’s advice from Smarter Travel: “GPS signals are raining down around us at all times, and your phone can connect to them without any real reliance on your cellular company”.

You Don’t Have to Be Online to Use a Phone as GPS

Off the grid and without access to Wi-Fi or cellular connections, things can quickly get dangerous – particularly in the relentless Aussie summer heat. GPS can be a real lifesaver! It can also help to conserve data when travelling abroad – which may just avoid a hefty phone bill upon your return home. Most location-based apps consume data voraciously, but with GPS you can use your phone in offline mode and avoid data penalties.

Using your phone’s GPS tracking allows you to use them in offline mode, incurring no data penalty so long as you preload maps and information while connected to Wi-Fi. Not only that, but GPS can also help preserve your phone’s battery life. This is a huge benefit when you are in areas where cellphone service is poor and you want to use your phone to take pictures or listen to music.

Tips For Driving Off-grid

While you can’t always predict when you’ll be without phone reception, there are some tips and tricks that will help you prepare for these situations:

  • Plan your trip prior: Roadtrip life is more than having the perfect BBQ packed and getting excited for a taste for freedom. Having planned ahead is going to come in handy right when you need it the most.
  • Research the expected cell phone coverage in the area you’ll be travelling in. This will help you find out what kind of cellular coverage issues you might face.
  • Pack a backup battery: A portable battery attachment allows you to charge your phone whilst driving. If you have an iPhone, there are portable battery packs you can purchase.

What Apps to Use When You’re Off-Grid

There are heaps of full-featured offline mapping applications, including Google Maps and Apple Maps.

  • Google Maps

Google Maps can help with many of the above-mentioned challenges. With a range of offline capabilities, Google Maps allows you to pre-download a 50-square-kilometre map for offline use. By doing so, you can still use your mobile device for all the navigation information you need, even without data.

  • Scout GPS Navigation

Scout GPS Navigation is a GPS app that provides you with all available routes on your journey and allows you to pick which route to use. Scout GPS Navigation also shows current speed limits and live traffic statuses, which can come in handy.

  • Maps.me

Another great navigation app to use on your off-grid adventures is Maps.me (MapsWithMe).
Maps.me is free to download and can be used offline – even in different countries. It lists all tourist attractions, hotels, cafes and restaurants nearby, allowing you to freely explore new surroundings without worrying about getting lost.

If you’re looking to take a road trip and want to make sure your car is in top shape, don’t hesitate to contact the team at Novus. Speak with a member of our team today on 13 22 34, or contact us online to get your vehicle into top condition. We’ll be happy to prepare you for your next big adventure!