Republic Wireless: Everything you need to know

67 Comments

Updated: Republic Wireless, the division of Bandwidth.com that offers customers an Android (s goog) phone with unlimited voice, data and text for $19 a month, launches Tuesday. It’s a revolutionary price point in the industry but it’s also an attempt to make Wi-Fi calling easier and more user-friendly. If it works it could change the wireless game in ways that other mobile broadband upstarts have tried and failed to do.

Republic Wireless’ love affair with Wi-Fi.

Republic Wireless has made Wi-Fi the linchpin of its mobile service with a cellular network provided by Sprint (s S) as its backup. Customers will join the service by paying $199 to get a phone and then $19 a month after that with no contracts. There’s a 30-day window for someone to return the phone and get their money back. So how does this work?

By default all calls, data and texts are sent via Wi-Fi networks when possible, and switch only to cellular if no Wi-Fi access is available. That’s one reason for the low price on the service, as most people can access an existing Wi-Fi network in their home or office for free. Brian Dally, the general manager of Republic says he expects at least 60 percent of the traffic to go over Wi-Fi networks. But he assures me that when he says unlimited data that it does extend to the 3G portion of the service as well.

Update: Looks like I should have ignored Dally and paid closer attention to the terms of service that note users who spend too much time on the cellular network will be booted out of the Republic club. Karl Bode over at Broadband Reports explains the situation and Republic’s Cellular Usage Index which is Republic’s Orwellian phrase for people who use too much cellular. The service regards fair use on cellular as about “550 minutes, 150 texts, and roughly 300 megabytes of data.”

Om said this sounds a lot like UMA, the technology that T-Mobile used for its Home Zone products and that many people loved. But Dally said Republic is not using the Kineto technology that UMA is based on, and that the user experience won’t be quite seamless when it comes to switching from one network to the other. At the moment users will hear a tone in the middle of a call signaling the change in networks, but the call will continue. That’s better than it cutting off entirely, but Dally says he’s still looking for feedback on the user experience and invited me to check back in a few weeks on the forums to see what users think.

Cheap matters but hardware does too.

To ensure the primacy of Wi-Fi, Republic had to build software that puts Wi-Fi first. It chose to do this using the Android OS not only because the platform is hot but it also allows developers to access the hardware. The first phone for the system will be the LG Optimus. If that’s not optimal, Dally promises that more phones are coming but he was mum about the timeline and particular devices.

The  LG Optimus Android (s goog) smartphone runs the Gingerbread version of Android and will come preloaded with the Republic software. A first-time user will be asked to put in his Wi-Fi network and then for information on other Wi-Fi access points. The phone will remember that information. Users will also be able to download apps to help manage authentication and payment for Wi-fi networks if they want, but Republic won’t preload any of that onto the handset.

The use of Sprint (s s) as the network partner means the phone uses Sprint’s CDMA network, so it won’t roam internationally. And, if Sprint coverage doesn’t work well in your area, think carefully about taking it up. We expect Kevin Tofel to take the handset through its paces later this week.

Is it too good to be true?

The idea of disrupting the cellular world is not a new one, and while VoIP calling over Wi-Fi has come a long way, the quality of experience can be sub par. Dally agrees that delivering better quality of service on Wi-Fi is something he hopes will happen, but he’s also confident that today’s Wi-Fi networks and the ubiquity of access is enough to make this service viable.

And beyond providing cheap mobile service, Dally espouses some of the same ethos that his parent company Bandwidth.com shares– The idea is to take telecommunications from the realm of a few large carriers and make it more egalitarian and IP-based. “The phone prefers WiFi because its ubiquitous and cheap and it’s not controlled by a few large companies,” Dally said. Bandwidth.com owns an IP network (which Republic will use to connect calls) that currently provides VoIP services to Skype, Google Voice and other IP voice providers.

Between Bandwidth.com’s network, Sprint and your home Wi-Fi points, Dally believes he has a service. And given the emphasis on public in all of the company’s branding, I’m wondering if there’s a Fon element to be found here, where members can sign up to share their hot spots. And while today Republic isn’t signing partnerships with existing hot spot and access providers such as the AT&T-owned Wayport (s t), Boingo (s wifi) or even iPass, Dally doesn’t rule them out in the future. Such partnerships which would give it even more flexibility to default to Wi-Fi coverage.

So it’s possible that Republic could flip the mobile phone model so cellular connections and pricing goes the way of satellite phone pricing — expensive and suitable only for a select few who roam the uninhabited wilds. I’ll be eager to see how this experiment plays out. The beta starts Tuesday with Republic offering to ship a cluster of handsets every Friday based on a first come first served basis, and folks can sign up at the company’s web site.

67 Comments

jcantu4u

when not on wifi…will sprint link make calls to other sprint users “sprint to sprint” (no charge?)

Dave the Budget Traveler

Woops, realized I asked my questions on the old article, so I copied it here. Hopefully they get answered.

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 my phone already defaults 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 is it 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 (the exact case for a family member of mine)
* 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 and aren’t using a lot of minutes, 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 cost of $264 (30-19)x24 to stick 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 dumb pipes!

Bob Woolmer

Time and again people have asked about whether their current number can be transferred to Republic…and there has been no answer…AMAZING

Schmee

Can I keep my old number? If so will there be a way to do it through the website?

Richard

The problem is Sprint’s network is poor to non-existent outside of cities or highways. So if you travel outside of cities your not going to have Sprint’s network to fall back on. Relying solely on wifi in areas where Sprint is not available is not something I would would want to do. The concept is great though. And I would definitely join if I traveled mostly in areas where Sprint is available.

Robyn Dee Roborovsky

Republic Wireless offered little more than poor planning, poor management, and all you can eat frustration, on opening day. Credit card information was seemingly shared with a sister but unaffiliated company named Phone Booth Mobile. and invoices issued through Phone Booth Mobile were not honored leaving many angry potential customers. Republic Wireless’ website was subjected to so much traffic in the first 2 days of service that it was mostly inaccesible, those who where finally able to get into the website were subjected to anxiety over purchases assumed to be made only to be told that Republic Wireless was experiencing bugs. Startups can have teething problems, but the magnitutde of the problems experienced by the hopeful who appeared for Republic Wireless bodes ill for this companys future.

thecolor

for those that were unable to get in on the beta and want to try something similar right away, I just grabbed “GrooVe IP” from the Android Market, and it’s essentially identical.

Here’s the deal… your calls are made over GrooVe IP’s system on wifi or the cellular data network. If for some reason those are not an option, it falls back to the normal cellular system.

The function above works with your Google Voice account and number.

It’s a great way to test it out. If you want to take it to the “Republic Wireless” level (for a bill), then all you have to do (once you’ve setup GrooVe IP) is go pre-paid.

With a pre-paid service and GrooVe IP, you get the hybrid wifi calling that falls back to a cellular network (of your choice) on an Android device now. :)

I’m no sals person, but I love talking about a program that REALLY works!

The program is $4.99 in the market, but it’s TOTALLY worth it!

Virt Man

It will be interesting to see how this service goes. I will wait for early adopters to see how they like the service.

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Jonatha

Their business model also used research, rather than just their FEELINGS, and they determined…through both that research and their superior intelligence in the area than you have…that most people use their phones in their homes or at work the majority of the time. And the times that you wouldn’t, like maybe driving to and from work/home (which you shouldn’t be doing while driving) Sprint will handle it.

Don’t whine because you are in a dying industry. Sweat all you want. We will continue to use our own WiFi and the occasional open WiFi to supplement Sprint. If that makes you feel better…think of it as Sprint supplemented by WiFi rather than WiFi supplemented by Sprint. Either way, it is $20 which is less than even the cheapest monthly cell plan with far fewer minutes and no WiFi.

Mirsad Aldina Mirza

where can i buy this phone and service,other then internet??

Jonatha

So..you have to enter your WiFi information, and then the WiFi information for all the other known ones in your area. Does that mean if you don’t enter the info, it will not try to connect to WiFi even if you are within range?

I mean that as a possible good thing for me. I do almost all of my calling from home. I might use MAYBE 100 minutes, and a few dozen texts and 5 MB of data away from home. (That data may increase a bit with an Android phone but still would not go anywhere near the 300 Meg “limit”) So, if I entered only my home’s WiFi info, would I be able to force the phone to stay in cellular mode whenever I am away? I would still stay well under the limits, but wouldn’t be bothered with the beeps with it switches over.

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