Saturday, 30 July 2011 03:54

Optus sells swell femtocell at last

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If you're an Optus mobile user with patchy 3G reception at home or work, and have a broadband connection with at least 1Mbps download speed and 512Kbps upload speed, Optus' swell femtocell should finally spell the end of potential coverage hell.

Although femtocells, which effectively create your own 'mini 3G network' with a radius of 30 metres have been on sale in other countries for some time, they've finally landed in retail stores for Optus mobile customers.

Not every Optus mobile customer will need a femtocell - they're designed for those who have patchy reception at their homes or offices, so clearly aren't needed by anyone that has good reception.

The femtocell, which looks similar to a wireless broadband router, works with any 'compatible' existing broadband connection, but is only on sale to Optus mobile customers, meaning its of no use to anyone whose phone is connected to one of Optus' competitors.

If you are an Optus mobile customer and decide to get one of the femtocells, you should find that you get 'up to 5 bars' of signal, along with the promise of improved data connections.

Unfortunately, while an improved data connection through the femtocell is a good thing, if you've already got Wi-Fi in the same place you want to install a femtocell, why would you bother with 3G data?

Of course there are things like streaming TV channels which will only work when you are directly connected to the Optus 3G network, or 'directly connected' via an Optus femtocell, and which won't work when connected to Wi-Fi, so that's one legitimate reason to want better 3G data in your home.

But it's the only one that I can think of that 'really matters' for femtocell-delivered 3G data connectivity.

To add to the desirability of the package, Optus is also offering the primary user in any newly-femtocelled property unlimited calls to local numbers as part of the introductory $5 per month pricing, along with being able to use anyone's cable or ADSL connection, with a 1Mbps download speed and 512Kbps upload speed recommended for the best femtocell performance.

The femtocell also allows up to four Optus mobile customers to connect to the femtocell at the same time, with up to 11 other visiting 'family and friends' besides yourself who also use the Optus network able to connect to your femtocell, if you've allowed them to do so.

Optus also says that if you're on a call when in your femtocell-equipped home, once you go out of the 30 metre range, your call will seamlessly transfer to the regular 3G network tower closest to you.

Optus has more information about its femtocell offer here
.

Now we just need Telstra and Vodafone to follow suit, simply because femtocells are a simple and easy way to boost coverage indoors, something that would certainly help Vodafone and even Telstra.

After all, although Telstra's Next G wireless network and coverage, including indoor coverage, is vastly superior to its competitors, I know at least one Telstra mobile customer right now who would snap up a Telstra femtocell immediately and put it to work in their home.

However it is Optus that has moved first in the Australian marketplace, while Telstra and Vodafone are sure to be watching Optus' progress closely as they decide whether they'll sell swell femtocells, too.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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