Why mobile phones are up a gum tree

Kathy Marks
Monday 13 January 2014 02:12

Australia's biggest phone company has come up with a novel excuse for abysmal mobile reception in the bush: the gum tree is to blame.

Telstra, often criticised for poor service in rural areas, said the large, fleshy leaves of eucalyptus trees absorbed mobile phone signals and disrupted conversations. The thick trunks and dense forests acted as shields, it said, sucking in radio frequency emissions.

The claims were greeted with scepticism by consumers, who find the signal disappears outside country towns, and conversations drop out with frustrating frequency.

But scientists cautiously backed the theory, although they said there was no evidence showing gum trees as the sole cause of the disruptions. Professor Alan Young, a government telecoms expert, said: "The signal goes into the trunk and the leaves and it dissipates. But the tree also reflects the signal, so it tends to scatter in other directions instead of coming to you."

Roger Bamber, of Telstra, said: "The gum trees absorb the signal, so if you are maybe 60km [37 miles] from a base station and you're relying on a very strong signal, it could be enough to cancel the signal."

The company says mobile reception should be good in one flat area near the Murray river in New South Wales and problems experienced there are caused by the thick covering of of red river gum trees that line the Murray.

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