Optus 3G Home Zone
Boosts home coverage; free calls
Uses lots of data; can be tricky to set up
$10 or $15 per month
If your home Optus mobile coverage is flaky, relief is at hand thanks to the Optus 3G Home Zone.
Basically a tiny mobile phone tower designed to boost coverage in your home, it plugs into your broadband connection and lets nearby mobiles make calls via your internet connection rather than the mobile network. You can use it with any ISP, but Optus recommends a minimum download speed of 1Mbps and upload of 512kbps to support four simultaneous calls.
The Home Zone costs $10 per month if you’re on a $79 per month or higher Optus mobile phone plan. If you’re on a lower plan, you’ll pay a hefty $15 per month. To sweeten the deal Optus offers unlimited local, national and mobile calls from the primary Home Zone mobile.
This primary phone must use an Optus SIM, but you can add other Optus numbers and, unofficially, the Home Zone supports other providers which use the Optus network. You can pay extra to get the unlimited calls deal for other Optus and Virgin phones authorised to use the Home Zone.
The unlimited calls deal makes the Home Zone more attractive, but there are a few catches. You can only use a Home Zone in an area that has Optus 3G coverage. Alternatively, using a Home Zone in a strong coverage area just to get the unlimited calls is a hassle, because your mobile will only switch over to the Home Zone if it’s having trouble connecting to the Optus mobile network. You’ll know when you’re connected to it because you’ll hear three beeps on your phone.
Setup is pretty straightforward, although some customers will need to mess around with port forwarding on their broadband modem. Ask Optus for help and you’ll be told to consult your ISP or modem manufacturer.
The amount of broadband data the Home Zone chews through is high. Even with no mobiles connected, Optus says it chews through a whopping 850MB per month. Then allow another 700MB per month for every mobile phone you’re using with the Home Zone. This data is not unmetered.
Your mobile phone can also access the internet via the Home Zone, but that means you’ll pay for it twice – once on your mobile bill and once on your fixed broadband bill. When you’re at home you should be connected to Wi-Fi.
Once all was running smoothly, the Home Zone certainly helped boost coverage around my home – offering five bars in nooks and crannies that otherwise only get one or two bars. Outgoing calls connect faster and are also louder when using the Home Zone.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice.
If your Optus coverage is so bad that you need a Home Zone, the smart thing to do is to move to another provider. If you’re stuck with Optus then the Home Zone could be the perfect solution to poor reception drop outs.