Optus has kicked off an Australian-first commercial trial of wireless femtocell technology but one analyst has fired back at the telco for “passing the buck” on to consumers to fix holes in its network.
The Optus 3G Home Zone, currently being offered at select Optus stores on a trial basis, can be purchased by the telco’s users for being $60 and $240 up-front depending on their current mobile plan, or at an additional monthly cost to their bill.
Once installed to the user’s fixed broadband internet service at home, regardless of ISP, the femtocell is designed to provide a short-range 3G mobile reception boost at up to 30 metres for mobiles connected to the network. Using the femtocell for mobile calls and emails is expected to consume up to 1.5 gigabytes of data per user over the fixed broadband service.
Optus consumer marketing director, Gavin Williams, claimed the launch was a result of customers increasingly abandoning fixed line in favour of mobile plans.
“Australia’s first commercial femtocell pilot will provide valuable feedback from our customers on the multiple benefits of this technology,” Williams said.
However, Telsyte analyst, Foad Fadaghi, told Computerworld Australia the ploy for Optus was no excuse for the telco not to invest in its own mobile network.
“The real question is why Optus’ network needs these kinds of patches to help people get signals in their homes and offices, it’s really passing the buck making the consumer pay to get better reception in the home,” he said.
“There’s other networks in Australia that don’t seem to have the need for femtocells… In the home most people use Wi-Fi to access the internet and do their social networking and applications, the issue is about talk and text and not having reception to do that, so yes this solution solves that but you’d expect better than that from your mobile carrier.”
He said that while the technology could prove useful in rural areas where signal is already limited, it would be unlikely to offer significant improvements in service in metropolitan areas where the technology is currently being trialled.
In a speech delivered to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia last month, Optus chief executive, Paul O’Sullivan, said the telco had invested some $2 billion over the past five years to all its network assets, with the majority spent on the mobile aspect. He said the telco had installed an additional 15 per cent of mobile bases in 2010 with 80 per cent of all of its mobile bases connected by fibre backhaul rather than microwave.
In contract to Fadaghi’s comments, telco expert Paul Budde said femtocell technology may help to overcome the current capacity issues being experienced by mobile networks.
“With people increasingly using more mobile devices in and around the house, it also allows for a better coverage of the home area,” he said.
According to Budde, the launch of the technology was seen by Optus as an opportunity to increase the use of mobile applications and then revenues, as well as an opportunity to develop new products and services.
Femtocell technology has been trialled by telcos globally with varied success. While AT&T in the United States has been known to offer femtocells to its customers to compensate for poor signal quality, it is believed regulatory concerns, pricing and the lack of a market has kept Australian telcos from trialling it locally in the past.
However, with Vodafone UK offering the service already, there has been speculation its Australian counterpart, Vodafone Hutchison Australia, could begin to trial a similar service here.
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