New technologies, not more phone towers, may be best for Mallee, communications expert Jim Wyatt says

Traditional mobile phone towers may not be the best way to bridge the Mallee's telecommunications gaps, a visiting expert says.

Jim Wyatt pioneered the mobile black spot program, later rolled out nationally by the federal government, in Western Australia.

In the past, he said, he would have told Mallee residents that expanding mobile coverage was the way to go, "no question" - but not any more.

"The technology has moved on so much," he said.

"We're all fixated with mobile coverage because we know how to use that thing (a mobile phone), we're familiar with it, and we think we need to be connected to it wherever we are."

But mobile connectivity was not the be-all and end-all, he said.

Different technologies could achieve the results people needed.

For example, base stations such as those developed by the Centre for Appropriate Technology could provide network access points at a fraction of the cost of a traditional mobile phone tower.

A dish could focus signals from a tower 30 or 40 kilometres away onto a single point - for example, a pedestal or smartphone-sized cradle - and allow a phone placed at that point to access a network that would normally be out of range.

Such a station could operate without power or moving parts and be installed for only a few thousand dollars, a fraction of the cost of a traditional mobile phone tower.

Even upgrading a tower from 3G to 4G could result in a 15 per cent extension of coverage in a flat area.

Other technologies not dependent on mobile internet access could help too, he said.

Coaxial cables of a type used in mining were proving cost-effective at transporting data over medium distances.

Microsatellites the size of a loaf of bread could take daily photos of a farmer's paddocks to provide updates on crop growth.

South Australian companies such as Myriota and Fleet were leading the nation in that respect, Mr Wyatt said.

All that farmer needed was an internet connection at home.

"The single-minded 'just build a telephone tower' needs to be substituted with the fit-for-purpose approach," he said.

"Let's have a different conversation."

He urged communities in need of better connectivity to organise, make their voices heard through Regional Development Australia or local government, and to help build a business case instead of relying on anecdotes about bad coverage.

"We need some numbers," he said.

"We need people to say 'if this was happening, here's what I'd do with it'."