After trials which have run since April, Optus today rolled out its femtocell product, Optus 3G Home Z, for Australia-wide use. Femtocells let you utilise your home broadband in conjunction with your mobile phone, which can help if you don’t get good reception at home. But that doesn’t mean it’s a solution for everyone.
Here’s the fiscal details: To take advantage of it, you need an Optus contract mobile. You can buy the Home Zone device outright for $240, or via a monthly payment on your bill ($5 a month on $59 caps and up, $15 a month on cheaper plans, both assuming a 24-month contract). You don’t need an Optus ADSL connection (since the Home Zone connects via Ethernet to any router), but you do need an ADSL service which runs at 1MBps downstream and 512Kbps upstream if you want to connect multiple devices.
When you’re connected to the femtocell, calls are routed using ADSL rather than the mobile network. You can tell this is happening via a distinctive “three beep” tone at the beginning of the call. One named customer can use the connection to make unlimited standard national calls, which could save you money on cheaper plans. You can connect up to 12 mobiles to the femtocell (Optus says that number might rise with future firmware updates), but only one nominated service gets the free call deal.
So who does this make sense for? If you have an Optus mobile and get good reception at work but lousy signal at home, it could be useful — but only if you have a high-speed ADSL connection. It also doesn’t make sense if you don’t have good Wi-Fi reception throughout your house. If you’ve got thick sandstone walls and can’t get Wi-Fi on your mobile in your bedroom, a femtocell won’t help.
You might want to wait to see what other offers appear. One of the unpleasant aspects of the current bundle is that you’re essentially subsidising Optus for the fact that its signal isn’t strong enough to reach your house, and using additional bandwidth which you also pay for to make that happen. A bundled deal might make more sense, or one which includes a naked ADSL service, so you’re not also paying for line rental on a landline which you’re not using because the mobile is now a better option. Optus hinted at the Home Zone launch today that a naked bundle might appear eventually. I’ve also got a test femtocell and a home where Optus can only manage GPRS, so I’ll be seeing how well it works over the next few days.