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Summary:

Republic Wireless, a division of Bandwidth.com, is going to launch a super-cheap mobile voice and SMS service on Nov. 8. The service uses a mix of VoIP and cellular technologies. The service requires new hardware, though.

republicwireless
Updated with more details. Republic Wireless, a division of Cary, N.C.-based VoIP and bandwidth provider Bandwidth.com will launch a hybrid cellular voice and VoIP service on Nov. 8, 2011. Jason Kincaid first reported the story, but we have some more details and a couple of screenshots.The service, which costs $19 a month, will allow you to make VoIP phone calls over Wi-Fi and will switch to cellular-based calling when a Wi-Fi network is unavailable. Text messages can also be sent via Wi-Fi or cellular networks. The service does require a special Android handset. The plan includes unlimited voice and text messaging. It also includes unlimited data without any bandwidth caps. 

Just like UMA, Just Different.

For those who have played around with the combination of Wi-Fi and voice calling known as UMA, the idea behind Republic Wireless is no different from the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA)-based service bundled in some T-Mobile BlackBerry devices. T-Mobile also has UMA available on some Android phones. When inside the office or your home or inside a Wi-Fi hot-spot, all phone calls and text messages are sent and received via the Internet. When there is no Wi-Fi, the calls are routed over a cellular network.

Republic is doing pretty much the same.  The company, however, says it has built its own soup-to-nuts solution to offer the hybrid calling functionality. The company is going to buy wholesale minutes from third-party carriers such as Sprint. Bandwidth.com could easily use other wireless carriers as its wholesale partners. The company says the monthly plan would include unlimited 3G data without any bandwidth caps. Typically, phone companies call  5 gigabytes download as “unlimited.” It is not clear if the plans would include 3G wireless data access or if it will cost extra per month.And like Kineto Wireless’ UMA that is used by T-Mobile, Republic requires you to buy a special phone that can handle this hybrid calling. The company has built this hardware based on Google’s Android OS. The screenshots below show how the end-customer can find out if they are on Wi-Fi or on the cellular network.

Is cheap enough?

As a long-standing fan of UMA, I like this idea of having one number automatically switching between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. It’s also attractive to those who travel internationally and want to save on calling back to the U.S.

However, I can’t get past the need for a special hardware. That need for special client hardware was always a problem for UMA. From the pricing, my best guess is that Republic is going after customers on a tight budget, and in order to attract this set of customers, the company is going to find a way to subsidize the hardware that will increase its total customer acquisition costs, which in turn means longer pay-off time for these customers.

Still, the idea of unlimited 3G data with the service for $19 a month is interesting enough for me to consider getting an additional line.

  1. interesting idea but it should really be a GSM SIM plus an android app.

    one of the things thats happening with the fast evolution of smartphones is that a lot of people own extra unused smartphones. these would be perfect candidates to drop such a SIM/APP into.

    also are the cellular minutes unlimited? if not whats the price?

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    1. The whole package – data, SMS and voice is unlimited though they have not clearly indicated what unlimited means. We shall find out more details on November 8, I guess.

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      1. I agree it does depend on what unlimited means; it usually does not mean unlimited. There’s a shoe repair shop near my home with a sign that says “While-U-Wait Service.” What it doesn’t say is U might wait up to two weeks.

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        1. LoL/ best example ever.

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    2. Tim Dennis Maxey Thursday, November 3, 2011

      Isn’t this what the “Groove Ip” Android app does?

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  2. I asked the question why does it require special hardware on TechCrunch, and was not given an answer. I believe it’s because in order to get Sprint to go along with this plan, they want to require that the user have a voice plan that uses their network. They do not want to sell a pure data device that will be used for VoIP. There is absolutely NO reason why a dual core 1.2 GHZ computer (or something even a lot slower) can’t handle a VoIP call over a broadband or wi-fi connection. The limitations are artificial, imposed by the wireless carriers. It is a practice that should be halted by the FCC, for wireless service is even more of a monopoly than wireline service, for anyone can deploy copper or fiber to the home, but a limited number of licenses are available for wireless providers. If a carrier has a government-protected monopoly, there should be rules about access to the networks, but right now, carriers are allowed to impose any rules they desire.

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    1. Ken, there are certain aspects of our architecture that I can’t make public, but that if I did, would clarify why special hardware is required. There are good reasons having nothing to do with a desire on our part, or Sprint’s, to enforce control over people and what they can or can’t do with their smartphones. Sprint’s wholesale division is actually an uncommonly good partner. And republic? Hey, we’re on your side in this… stay tuned!

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      1. Brian, Are you going to disclose those aspects? Why would you choose an architecture that shrinks your total market considerably (you will not get any of tech savvy users, as they will want to use their own phone)? How do you offer an unlimited data plan for $19/mo, with no caps? I realize it might use wi-fi when available, but what about those users who are not nin range of wi-fi networks, or don’t want to use unsecure wi-fi?

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      2. Brian, can you explain then the message on the post-signup screen that says: “So tell your friends. In fact, tell everybody. If they have a mobile phone, then they have a home here.”

        This makes it sound like you can “bring your own phone” to Republic.

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      3. Hi Brian Will be interesting to see if you hopefully offer more then one device?? Then just the lg optimus which doesn’t even have a flash for the camera. That has become a must for me… Device selection will play a huge factor in this I think for alot of people..

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      4. Creighton McCain Wednesday, November 2, 2011

        Hi Brian Will be interesting to see if you hopefully offer more then one device?? Then just the lg optimus which doesn’t even have a flash for the camera. That has become a must for me… Device selection will play a huge factor in this I think for alot of people..

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    2. I assume this is mainly due to the RW business model.

      Who is initial target customer? Probably the people that buy pre-paid, w/ low cost as primary desired “feature”, most often w/ handset “bundled”. That target isn’t buying based on handset.

      If enabled on any handset, a power user could buy this service, enable/hack it on 4G handset and use as modem, effectively buying mobile broadband at $19/mo, hurting RW cost basis. Meanwhile, depending how RW engineered this, support of “any” handset could add significant development and operations costs.

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      1. Brian, I think the plan is brilliant and I am one tech savvy user that is looking forward to buying your dedicated hardware. I recently deactivated my DROID and switched to a dumbphone and an iPod Touch because I couldn’t justify an extra $30 a month for something I am already paying $50 a month for (aka internet). I have Wifi at home, work, and most restaurants so why should I pay the premium for my commute.
        As along as long as the phone can run Android and is powerful enough to run email, and basic apps then I’ll be happy. I can play games and take pictures on my iPod Touch.
        Counting the days till Nov 8th. I think it’s great what you are doing and wish you great success.

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  3. Om? Where do we find out info on new career opportunities for the new company? Can’t find anything on their website and nothing on LinkedIn?

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    1. I don’t think there are any job listings just yet. Maybe they will have them on November 8

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    2. Dee (and Om), we’ll have jobs posted on our republic wireless site when it goes live Nov 8 or soon after, but for now you can see them (and many openings with other divisions of Bandwidth) here: http://bit.ly/rFacdZ

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  4. I think special hardware is required due to the huge battery drain. Probably this phone will be with at least 2000mA battery and the device does not fall into sleep mode while connected to WiFi. A better option would be for incoming calls to be initiated over cellular and then immediately swapped to Wi-Fi as the device wakes up.

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    1. All of my smartphones last all day while connected to wi-fi, as it allows the 3G or 4G radios to be disabled. This is not why they need special hardware.

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    2. Does anyone know if they are selling stock options?

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  5. Om – Love the idea, but $19/month is just north of $450 over industry standard 2-year contract. Curious to understand their business model in more detail and how they plan on realizing any profit from this. Also, if it takes off would be interesting to see its impact on their wholesale provider.

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  6. how much will the hardware cost?

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  7. I think the special phone has to have a radio capable of connecting to both GSM and CDMA networks (not at the same time, of course). Qualcomm and other make this sort of chip. The phone also needs the ability to authenticate itself to different carriers depending on the region. This would give Republic the ability to purchase excess capacity from the carriers on a region by region basis. The phone would switch to the correct carrier by region as needed. The user wouldn’t know or care which carrier is being used, and Republic could shop for the best deals on connectivity.

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  8. I must be missing something here.

    How do you seamlessly switch between wifi and 3G without custom hardware? On a standard Android phone, you will loose your connection if you go from wifi to 3G since it’s a different network, routing, etc.

    It can be done in software, but probably not seamlessly, since it needs to happen in real time.

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    1. You hold the call via cell and wifi at the same time. When it’s time to drop one and go to the other, you do an instantaneous swap.

      Cell sites and your phone already do this all the time, choosing which site and which antenna at each site has the best signal for your call. This is different only in that it’s looking at cell and wifi at the same time rather than just cell.

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  9. I’ve been reading about republic wireless for the pass two hours or so. I am quite interested. Specially since some major carriers have decided to start charging for wifi tethering. You already know my question, but in case you don’t, here it is. Will I be able to tether using your devises?

    Because if I am, I will be more then happy to terminate my plan, even though I am loving my galaxy s2. And will your devises be any where near as kick ass as the gs2 or at least similar to it?

    I think it would be beautiful if I could use my gs2. I don’t care if it is on 3g. Come on, hook my gs2 up and have me as a customer. Please tell me your devises won’t disappoint.

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    1. Richard Chisholm Jr Thursday, November 3, 2011

      You must be kidding. It’s people like you that played a big part in cell carriers limiting data plan allowances and increasing prices. Wirless bandwidth is a limited and finite resource, governed by the laws of physics. People who monopolize that resource and who do not pay their fair share (and no, $19 a month is not your fair share if you want to tether on an unlimited basis) should look into other solutions where you’re not a drag on everyone else.

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      1. People like me? You don’t even know me or know what I do and you are already passing a bias opinion as to how and how long and why I would like to tether.

        and where did I mentioned that I was going to tether in an unlimited basis? You must have read the wrong comment.

        Tethering has it’s usefulness. Now does this mean that I will tether uncontrollably? No. but I do use it from time to time when the job calls for it.

        On an average I might tether two to three times a month. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes if even that.

        And I do pay my fair share, more then you will ever know. Maybe people like you should not be so quick to judge others and have some kind of simple human courtesy as to why maybe tethering is important to some people with a career.

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    2. You want to tether a phone that uses WiFi as it’s main method of communication so you can have WiFi access?

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      1. Assumption is the mother of all f*ck ups. Have a nice day.

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  10. I am so excited about this; your marketing rules! Love the teaser site and the name. Very ballsy message, not to mention the price point. Good luck, I’ll be watching closely!

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  11. I am waiting -christmass will come early this year,my monthly phone bill is 100+ you go Republic-Wireless

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  12. Looks a lot like cm7…

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  13. This is going to be a no brainer for many folks if they can deliver…. I have said for years that as soon as some company comes into the marketplace with this mindset and pricing the game is over, the others are going to have to somewhat follow suit with their pricing model or loose a very large % of business…. If tethering is also part of this package there’s no question in what direction I’ll be going…. I’m also sure that 4g will most likely take place in a reasonable timeframe…. go get em guys!!!

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  14. I hope its not just Sprints coverage, because it sucks pretty bad where I’m at. Now Verizon’s coverage would be nice :) I’d switch in a heart beat. Fingers crossed

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  15. I am a Pay-As-You-Go user of T-mobile. I top up my phone with $100 every now and then. Republic

    Wireless plan sounds very interesting but I am taking it with a grain of salt. Reasons follow –
    1. I am curious about the hidden fees. Supposedly, my t-mobile is should give me 1000 minutes for

    my $100 which it never does. The money just disappears!!, So what the Republic Wireless user needs

    to know about the hidden fees? Honestly, tell us before some eagle-eyed customer finds it out. Republic Wireless is getting a good rep, why tarnish it?
    2. As some folks have pointed out, need of a special hardware. How much its going to cost? How many handsets Republic Wirelss plans to offer? Currently, Sprint network is not rated the best by Consumer Reports (Ok, not as worse as at&t either) but what if I invest in, say $200 handset, and the coverage in my region of interest is poor? Will there be extra charge for hopping on Verizon/Virgin Mobile network or phone goes dead (without wi-fi)?
    3. My dad told me, don’t buy anything that is first generation (even Steve Jobs got it wrong with

    few of his products), so how quickly Republic Wireless plans to update your phone offerings?

    And, if Republic Wireless is indeed as good as it sounds, it will certainly fire up a price war and

    it should. The wireless providers in this country have too much of control over our use and FCC

    doesn’t give a hoot. Most likely, this is the only country on the top of the world where you are charged for incoming message and a call. Countries like India and China started way after us and offer the cheapest possible service contracts. If they can do it, why not the US wireless carriers. Its just the greed, isn’t it?

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  16. I bet (a) the phone sucks enough (small screen size, slow processor, etc.) to discourage use of excessive web use to the point where it’s inexpensive for the carrier or (b) there’s a lot of fine print about actual limits. I bet it’ll also come very locked down so it’ll be (theoretically) impossible to root and install custom roms that allow access to free portable wifi hotspot use and such. It would be too good to be true if it was really $20 a month with unlimited data that you could do something with.

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  17. Where will this service be available? I haven’t seen any info on the markets /cities that will have Republic as an option. So what are the chances it comes to Phoenix, I do want to get all excited for nothing.

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  18. Brian:
    – When on sprint is tethering included? allowed? If so, subject to reasonable usage I assume, but what would that be? Needing to pay for a separate mifi-type plan on a traditional network would certainly reduce the economic benefits, though I may not be your target customer.
    – Keeping non-wifi usage under 550min on average shouldn’t be too hard for most users. 300MB for data may be a bit more difficult for many. I think I use closer to a gig on my AT&T iphone in the typical month and most phones already default to wifi when in range for data, so that could be a concern.
    – Will the user have root access to the Optimus as shipped? If not, does Republic Wireless care if the user roots?
    – There was a hint that the Galaxy II may come to Republic? I assume the issue with the high end phones is how to deal with the high upfront costs without a contract? Or that they will likely use more sprint data?
    – Of course, if there was a way people could covert their existing CDMA phones, that would open up the market a lot. Does UMA require special hardware of just tailor written firmware? If it is firmware, I’m betting you can get the open source/root community to port this to every capable phone for you for free within weeks.

    Interesting to compare the math to getting a 3rd phone on a sprint family plan:
    * Sprint Cost for adding an LG Optimus S as the 3rd phone over 24 months $720+tax+stuck in contract
    * Sprint Cost for keeping an LG Optimus as the 3rd phone if you are grandfathered without the premium data fee $480+tax over 24 months
    * Revolution Cost for an Optimus over 24 months $555+tax (with early adopter discount)
    * Clearly, this is a better deal if you want a low end phone and don’t already have one, but if you have a phone on Sprint without the premium data fee, keep it.
    * Though note that the pricing is close enough that with the lower percent usage on the cell network, if family plan add-ons are profitable for Sprint, Republic won’t be responsible for bankrupting them.
    * It will be interesting to see how the math works for a high end phone. How will the incremental $264 (30-19)x24 of sticking with Sprint compare to the difference in the actual subsidy offered.

    Right now my only reservation is that I would prefer a high end phone and need to be able to tether on occasion, but I really like the concept and I am a big fan of dump pipes!

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  19. Nov 10th, 2011 went to Sprint store to inquire about the service. Manager fresh from manager meeting did not have a clue. Never heard of the company or the service. As a former Sprint customer, I thought maybe the second time is a charm ? Silly me – should have brought toast and jam because egg oozed down my face again. The first time I left it was due to communication issues mmmmmm

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    1. You'reNotSillyYou'reStupid Wednesday, December 14, 2011

      You’re an idiot. This is a completely different company than Sprint. Republic just uses the Sprint network.

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