Optus and Vodafone plan to boost your mobile

A new gadget called a "femtocell" might just make your mobile phone more reliable around your office by giving you your very own mobile base station and sending calls over the internet.

Everyone knows how spotty mobile phone reception can get inside an office and how frustrating it is when calls drop out or data downloads slowly.

Optus and Vodafone have a plan they hope will help, using a gadget called a "femtocell".

To understand a femtocell, first think about a WiFi router, the small devices that bring wireless internet to a home or office. A femtocell is basically the same – they're small radios with a short range - and are about the same size as a WiFi router (see picture at right). The difference is that femtocells offer the same 3G connections that your phone gets from carriers like Optus and Vodafone.femtocell1

If you place a femtocell in your office, you'll get a strong, consistent, 3G connection for your mobile phone and other 3G gadgets. It may even be a private connection: folks in the office next door will still be competing for publicly available radio waves while you get your very own base station.

Femtocells deliver a clear signal because instead of competing for public airwaves, they send your calls and data over your wired internet connection. So expect a bit more Internet traffic – and make sure you don't pay for it.

You might find a femtocell useful if mobile coverage is spotty in your office, or if you like the idea of ditching landlines and going all-mobile but want worry about reliability.

If you want a femtocell, give Optus a call: it's offering them to home users in Sydney, Wollongong Brisbane and the Gold Coast and also chatting quietly to business customers. Vodafone is also talking to medium-sized business customers.

Telstra has seized on those plans as a sign that its rivals can't rely on their public networks to provide decent service, but there's a bit of competitive bulldust in that assertion: the company was the first to talk up femtocells in Australia about three years ago! It's also a bit naughty because plenty of carriers overseas already use femtocells – they're big in America – and they're generally held to be a good way to improve mobile reception.

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