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Palliser suffering a poor reception

Cellphone coverage was wiped out across the region when Cyclone Gabrielle hit, but Palliser Bay towns have been grappling with this issue for months.

Palliser Bay residents say they have suffered inadequate or non-existent cellphone coverage, disrupting businesses and preventing people from contacting emergency services.

Trees on private property are blocking line-of-site connectivity between the Spark cellular tower north of Ocean Beach and the Vodafone tower on the west side of Aorangi Forest Park.

As a result, locals have experienced intermittent loss of voice, data, and SMS services, where under normal circumstances, the whole area has good coverage.

A stark example of the situation’s consequences is provided by Vicki Farrier, who was at Cape Palliser four weeks ago when her husband collapsed.

“I tried to call emergency services on my phone, but there was no reception.

“I had to stay with my husband, and it took 20 minutes until somebody else came and called an ambulance on the landline,” she said.

There has been another, similar incident that Farrier is aware of, involving a woman who had a medical event in the area two weeks ago. Unable to reach ambulance services via mobile, those trying to help her had to drive 15 minutes to Ngawi to make the call from a payphone.

After that, first responders arrived after 40 minutes, and the woman was helicoptered to Wellington hospital.

“The mobile network not working is a major health and safety risk; it might take a death before the mobile companies listen – that’s a cold fact,” said Farrier, who is a trained nurse and first responder.

Lake Ferry resident Margaret Phillips said she had spoken to Spark dozens of times, trying to report the issue.

“I’ve lived here for four years and never had any issue until suddenly, around Christmas, it stopped working correctly,” she said

“People out here are just trying to work, and they can’t – it’s terrible.

“And in an emergency, we’re half an hour from Martinborough, so it’s not funny.”

Ngawi Fisherman Brad Johnson relies on a cellphone network to report to the Ministry of Primary Industries while he is out in the bay.

“I’ve had to explain to them multiple times that I can’t communicate because of the cellphone network,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s even showing that the boat isn’t at sea when it is.”

Johnson also said the poor connection had sometimes prevented him from filing fishing reports to MPI at the end of the day.

MPI said fishermen needed a reliable mobile network to file their reports.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s mum Alison Sim said her eftpos machine had repeatedly stopped working at her food truck business Captain’s Table.

“Often, I can’t even ring to complain to Spark because the signal is too bad,” Sim said.

A Vodafone spokesperson said that a significant forestry area surrounds the Aorangi Forest Park tower, which needs to be trimmed to restore line-of-site connectivity with the Ocean Beach tower.

They said a contractor was due to go on-site late last week to identify and remove the trees.

However, Vodafone’s contractors were unavailable because they were busy restoring connectivity to critical sites across the North Island impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Despite this, Vodafone said it expects the issue to be resolved quickly.

A spokesperson for Spark, which owns the Ocean Beach tower that needs line-of-site with the Vodafone tower, apologised for the inconvenience caused to customers.

They said Spark is looking at alternative ways to connect the Ocean Beach tower to the network but said that will take some time to design and reconfigure.

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Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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