Travels in mobile blackspot abyss along Beechworth-Wodonga Road

PHONE BATTLE: The Telstra and Optus mobiles on their adventure along Beechworth-Wodonga Road. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

PHONE BATTLE: The Telstra and Optus mobiles on their adventure along Beechworth-Wodonga Road. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

ON THE GROUND

If you’re up for a 30-minute trip of frustration at a mobile phone, there is no better journey than the road between Wodonga and Beechworth.

I knew what I was in for when I took a car ride to test the notorious road - it has been a known mobile blackspot and source of annoyance for people from both centres over many years.

One mention that I was working on this story elicited a series of groans at the lack of coverage, and the results will not be a surprise.

The Border Mail photographer James Wiltshire took the wheel so I could sit in the passenger seat with one Telstra and one Optus mobile phone, ready for a duel, but they both lost the battle.

We officially started our trip at the Baranduda Boulevard roundabout and turned into Beechworth-Wodonga Road with almost full reception and the knowledge it would not last.

But I was surprised it only took two kilometres for the Optus phone to drop down to one bar of reception.

By the time we had travelled 6.4 kilometres from the roundabout, before we even reached Leneva, the signal of both phones had dropped out entirely.

There were flashes of a single bar of service as we went up hills, but they quickly disappeared on the descent.

I tested the value of the single bar with a call to the office from the Telstra phone.

Our deputy editor could barely hear anything except a broken-up voice and was about to hang up, until I kept talking and she realised who had called.

That does not count at coverage at all.

It is worth noting this was an area under threat from Indigo Valley fires - twice across December and January.

The CFA told me at the time firefighters were determined to control the fire before it reached Beechworth-Wodonga Road because that was when it would start threatening homes.

Those residents were advised to leave their home immediately for safety, but would not have got the message if they were relying on their phones.

Luckily for us, this was not a hot or windy day and we could keep driving towards the tourist attractions.

Visitors to Star Lane Winery would have the regular frustrations, faced with zero reception at the front gates to the vineyard.

Further down the road, Beechworth Berries was lucky enough to be situated in the one section where the Telstra phone actually had three bars of reception, even if was still 3G not 4G.

But as we came closer to Beechworth, the Telstra phone showed a flash of 4G reception in an exciting sign we were nearly out of the mobile blackspot abyss.

Finally, as the car passed the welcome to Beechworth sign, both phones returned to normal reception and I was connected with the world again.

The office of Indi MP Cathy McGowan was hoping for an announcement on the next round of federal mobile blackspot funding as soon as the end of the week and Beechworth-Wodonga Road was high on the agenda.

Both Wodonga and Indigo councils also had the road at the top of their lists, citing safety concerns for people who regularly traveled the busy link between the major centres.

Residents might throw a party or just sigh in relief if it actually happens.

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