After years of being hyped up as a next generation solution to mobile phone coverage problems, femtocell technology has finally hit the Australian market in the shape of a trial being kicked off this week by the nation’s number two telco Optus.
Femtocells are small devices which customers install in their homes, connecting them in to their home broadband network. The devices then act as a small 3G mobile base station, funnelling mobile traffic back from customers’ phones through their broadband connection to their telco of choice. They have not previously been commercially sold in Australia in quantity.
Optus has dubbed its femtocell solution the ‘Optus 3G Home Zone’.
“Increasingly customers are abandoning their fixed line in favour of mobile plans which offer incredible value … as more customers use 3G mobile devices as their main service in the home or small business office, Optus has been investigating ways to ensure customers receive the best experience possible from their mobile service, both from a value and a network perspective,” said the telco’s consumer marketing director Gavin Williams, in a statement released this morning.
The femtocell devices will initially be available through select Optus stores in Sydney, Brisbane, Wollongong and the Gold Coast, and will allow four simultaneous users to ‘reliably’ make and receive calls and access 3G mobile broadband, within an approximately 30m radius from the device.
Optus has set up a portal where customers can add and remove mobile devices – so that friends, family and colleagues can access the femtocell coverage.
The telco is recommending that customers have minimum broadband speeds of 1Mbps down and 256kbps up to use the service, and it will cease to function if a customers’ broadband service is shaped or throttled down below 128kbps.
On a site set up to provide information about the service, Optus said the Home Zone device would add about 1GB of data usage to customers’ home broadband usage every month – although heavy users could use more. In addition, any data used through the femtocell – including calls and mobile broadband data — will count towards a customers’ existing mobile or mobile broadband plan.
Other limitations on the service also apply. For example, if you start a call or data download session in your Home Zone area, and then move outside it, the session will handover to Optus’ 3G network – but not the other way around. “Call/Data sessions that began outside your Home Zone’s 3G hotspot will not handover to your Home Zone unit, but will try to maintain the connection from any outside available network coverage,” said Optus on its site.
Only Optus mobile customers will be able to connect to the Home Zone unit, although the telco appeared to imply on its site that customers of other fixed broadband providers would still be able to use their Optus mobile service through the fixed line of another provider. “Please Note: If you change your Home Broadband plan or provider; you are responsible for ensuring that the new plan/service is compatible with the minimum requirements of the Home Zone device,” the site states.
Optus has unveiled a range of pricing options for the Home Zone service. If you have an existing mobile phone plan worth $79 a month or higher, for example, you can buy the device for as little as $60, or $5 per month over 12 months. Pre-paid customers can buy the device outright for $240.
It remains unclear to what extent Optus’ competitors Telstra and VHA are planning femtocell offerings to rival the solution unveiled by the Singtel subsidiary this morning.
Image credit: Optus