Price: $5 to $15 per month
The Optus Home Zone is effectively a personal 3G mini-mobile cell (Femtocell), which is useful for those whose normal 3G Optus mobile service has dropouts or connection problems.
Setting it up is reasonably simple if you have a basic understanding of how to connect to a router or modem. To avoid interference, the main unit shouldn’t be closer than 40cm to your body and should be kept at least 30cm away from wireless routers .
Every phone that’s used with the system must be registered, which provides some security against other phones in the vicinity.
Our attempts to use the system with an iPhone 3G failed, but the newer HTC Incredible S was recognised almost immediately. Bearing in mind that our test area has poor reception with most carriers and two bars on any phone is a rarity, the Home Zone lived up to its promise with five bars for at least 20 meters and through a couple of brick walls.
Naturally, the service comes at a cost. At present, the two-year contract is $5 per month for those on an Optus plan of $59 or more, or $15 a month for those on $49 or less. Standard national calls from the primary phone are free, but 13/1300 numbers and calls from other registered phones are charged at the normal rate for their plan. There’s a $300 early exit charge and all the equipment is owned by Optus.
The service is limited to specific areas and relies on an internet connection with a broadband downlink speed of 1Mbps and uplink speeds of 512kbps in order to support up to the maximum of four simultaneous voice calls. The lowest recommended broadband speed required to support a single voice call is 128kbps.
Optus estimates broadband usage to be around 1.5GB per month for one average mobile phone user and approximately 3.5GB per month for four. If you run out of broadband, your Home Zone will stop working and even emergency calls won’t function. Therefore, if you have poor service, it's best to not rely on Home Zone in an emergency.
Home Zone is a solution for situations where there’s a weak Optus signal. If you normally use a lot of 3G data when home, this could be both functional and reasonable value. But although mobile coverage is an issue with most Australian carriers, CHOICE thinks Optus should either boost their signal in dead zones, or provide the home zone service for free.
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