What The Optus Femtocell Can Do For You (And What It Can’t)

What The Optus Femtocell Can Do For You (And What It Can’t)

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.


  • My company has been trialing the Vodafone femto cells for about 3 months now. We have 4 positioned around the office and it runs over our 10mb fibre internet link.

    They do work very well most of the time, but occasionally in the middle of a call, the sound goes completely garbled and does not right itself until you hang up and call again. I also find that it does not switch from femto cell to mobile tower very well. So if I am on a call in the office and then leave to go home, the calls often drop out when I am out of range of the femto cell.

    The data is also very slow, so even though the femto uses our 10mb fibre link, the data is still only Ping: 212ms, Down: 0.82mb, Up: 0.45mb.

    Also, positioning of the device is essential, they do not like going through walls and cannot simply sit on the floor, they need to be at about head height.

    It also does feel a bit wrong to pay the same amount of money on calls and data, even though you are using your own internet connection to place the call or check emails.

    It is interesting that Optus is allowing them to be installed in the home, because Vodafone have specifically chosen not to use them in the home, firstly because of the mobile tower handoff problem, but also because the quality of service is totally dependent on your internet connection speed and utilisation. So if the kids are downloading a lot, your call quality will drop or not work at all.

  • The way I see this is optus saying to their customers “here, buy this device that will use your internet connection instead of our crappy network because it doesn’t work in your area”

  • Ben: I’m not sure you understand the economics here… you don’t think Optus would pass on the upgrade of its “crappy network” to you via charges?

    • Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I think that the network should work fine in the city (here in perth, its patchy), without extra charges.

    • But still Optus are relying on you to upgrade and pay for their crappy network, if i`m paying for a service I should get the whole service

  • I’ve had my femto for a while now (I bought the bullet and decided it was worth trying out) apart from a few teething problems (my bby data decided to drop out overnight and on I think 2 occasions had no signal at all) I love it.
    The fact that I now have full coverage in the house means my mobile service is running like a dream as are the rest of my family. Really the amount of data it uses I wouldn’t have thought was a big amount considering the data allowances these days (we have 200gb) and the fact that the device can be bought in installments over 12mths I think its a bargain to pretty much guarantee I have good service at home where before I had ok coverage.

  • Question for the people that have this already… How do you lock it down? Do you pair it to a mobile somehow? Or is it first in best dressed, including your neighbours?

    • There’s a web interface where you add the specific numbers for mobiles you want connected, so your neighbours won’t get an edge unless you choose to offer it to them.

  • I have mixed feelings on this. The part of me that is currently regularly facing reception issues with Vodafone at home and at work (but find reception reasonable when outside), thinks that something like this would be fantastic in my home.

    As Gus pointed out though, I’d also be conflicted at the prospect of having to pay additional money to make up for VHA’s lack of coverage – especially considering my handset supports VoIP anyway, which I can use via my home WiFi.

    In reality, I can’t help but wonder how fidgety it would be to actually set up and use on home internet. We use VoIP as our main outgoing fixed line telephony service (via my modem’s built-in ATA), and even with everything being supported inside the modem itself – it still required some annoying configuration with QOS to get it running properly. I can only imagine a adding a third party femtocell would be worse.

    As JM pointed out, on a high speed fibre corporate connection, I’d imagine these things run pretty smoothly. On a home ADSL connection? Maybe not so much…

  • Voda gets torn to shreds by the media, class action taken, network upgrade commence. Why is the same not happening to Optus?

    I’m a Virgin customer and the Optus network seems to experience the same issues Voda had/has but at least they (Voda) are doing something.

    Optus solution is femtocell, wtf! They want me to pay for their network upgrade? Does this mean they’ll be reducing their call rates now that the higher mobile charges are not being used to upgrade their network?

    We’ve been told for years that charges for mobile calls are expensive because they need to maintain their network.

    Its like having a car that works at work but doesnt work in the city and wont work in rush hour and only kinda works at home but if you want it to work all the time you should hire a femtocell_towtruck to make it work properly

    • Couple of points: Voda is also running femtocell trials in Australia. And the Vodafone issue was about bad reception across the board, not just at home.

  • Anyone know if this can work outside of Australia? I have an office in Vanuatu, and an Optus mobile on contract which is useless for more than half the year that I am outside of AU. Would be great to have my own little Optus base station here!

    (I assume a VPN enabled router could make the IP look like it was in Au, but I use VPN at the PC level as my router isn’t VPN enabled.)


  • Hmm, so if I have poor coverage for my mobile the assumption is I will have an acceptable adsl connection which in itself drops off based on distance from the exchange. I would think that coverage for mobiles would be better closer to the exchange than further away, so given that premise wouldn’t it also be true to say that if coverage is worse then my adsl is most likely to be worse also?

  • Does the o[tus femptocell have a facility for connecting an external aerial ? If mobile reception is poor in the first place one would want to maximise the signal strength for the internet connection to provide decent quality , one would think !

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