Advice for NRC in South Sudan
Your contact details has been given to me in Juba. I am seeking some advise.
NRC operates in Alek, Warrap State, in South Sudan. The mobile phone signal strength in Alek is patchy / weak; I have been told that a "mobile phone signal booster" would improve this - I would appreciate any advice you can offer on a good make / model and so forth.
I would rather use the term “repeater” and not “Booster” as GSM works up in the high frequencies (which is higher than UHF). The repeater consists of a control unit, an outdoor aerial and an indoor aerial. The repeater will connect the mobile to the GSM network via the indoor and outdoor aerials.
What the repeater will not do is to relay signals if the quality is really poor.
I have seen plenty of situations where people have to climb the small hill behind the office to make calls. Where this situation occurs, then a repeater will be a viable option.
Before making any investment into kit, its sensible to identify a spot where an outdoor aerial may be placed and use a GSM phone to make some calls. If calls can be made, then investment is recommended. If call quality is poor, then the prospect of a repeater improving the situation is small.
Assuming the test has been passed, the outdoor aerial will extend the coverage through a local cell created by the indoor aerial. This sort of technology will support a number of phones in a small office.
There are plenty of companies making this sort of kit. Some cheap systems will be enough for a small office, but others can create large scale cells for events such as trade exhibitions.
It's unclear whether Nick is trying to improve the signal in the office or the signal for staff moving around the area and using mobile phones.
If it's a question of improving the reception at a particular location then the easy solution is to get a car kit for a mobile phone and put the antenna where it gets the best signal - on a pole at the top of the roof for example. Then the phone can be put into the car mount in the office and or guesthouse.
If it's a question of comms to staff who are working around the area then if the mobile signal is unreliable the simple solution is to use old-fashioned VHF. A repeater station can be set up fairly easily if there is either a good location at the office or alternatively rent mast space from a commercial company who already has a communications mast up somewhere. (this is the easiest solution - that way they already provide security for the equipment, and often have a technician available to do the installation.)
Using a VHF repeater Nick will get communications out to a surprising distance in an environment like South Sudan - if a mast on a hill is used then the range will be anything up to about 30km radius, which should cover most requirements in an operational area. The big advantage from a security point of view is that the VHF system is unlikely to be switched off or overloaded in an emergency, and also unlike mobile phones, everyone on the network can hear everyone else which is extremely valuable for keeping track of staff if things get messy.
Hope that helps a bit. Tony
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