I love disruptive companies that spring up in markets that are traditionally dominated by powerful corporations and monopolies and force everyone to reconsider the product or business model involved. In Canada and US, one such dominated market is cellular service. Everyone knows they’re being ripped off, but no one really has any choice or say in the matter so they keep paying, and the incumbent companies keep squeezing them even more.
So, naturally when I heard about republic, their $199 phone and their $19/mth price point I got interested. How they choose to approach not just the problem but their customers is novel and inventive. You don’t sign a contact, and you’re not a “customer” or a “client,” instead republic refers to you as a member and the $19/mth as your membership fee. There are no extras, add-ons or levels of service. Everyone is equal and everyone pays the same $19 monthly fee for unlimited everything-republic-has-to-offer. Even their motto of “the mobile network that runs on freedom” makes you feel a little warm and fuzz inside.
But is it really unlimited? That’s where their technology becomes inventive too. republic splits your usage into “Cell” and “Wi-Fi”. If you’re within rage of a wireless network that’s open or that you’ve previously configured all of your calls, texts and data will route though Wi-Fi and you can use that as much as you like with no limits. In fact, this part of their service puts them more on par with Skype or perhaps Google Voice. But what about if you’re not near a wireless access point? Then things aren’t as limitless, republic has a “Cellular Usage Index” or CUI that they use to check your usage on the cellular networks of their partners and see if you’re using more than a fair share (above the community average) of cellular resources. Their site lists the typical resting point of this average at about 550 minutes, 150 texts and 300 megabytes of data.
As long as you’re not routinely breaking the CUI (using your phone on cellular networks enough to pass the general fair use threshold, you can use republic as much as you like. If you happen to live in a city that has city-wide free wireless, have Wi-Fi points both are home and work or just not typically use a phone that much, republic is probably one of the best deals you can get. But, what if you’re going on a three-week vacation to Greedyville where there aren’t any free Wi-Fi points and you’ll need to use the cellular network the whole time? Well, thankfully republic isn’t going to boot you off for going over their fair-use limits occasionally, they assure that the limits are “soft” and they’ll work with their members to let them know well before anything would happen to cut off service.
The other potential downside to republic is you can’t bring your own phone, you have to use the LG Optimus (Android 2.3) phone they supply due to the Wi-Fi/Cellular dancing involved. If you need to use an iPhone or a Blackberry, republic isn’t going to be your thing.
I emailed republic for some answers to some other questions I felt their website didn’t answer, and have including those questions and their responses below.
Do you have any current or short-term plans to expand into Canada or the UK with republic wireless?
If you have a republic wireless phone, will it work on wi-fi points in other countries while traveling?
Although we do not currently have plans to expand cellular coverage internationally, wi-fi service (for data or calls and texts to U.S. numbers) will work anywhere in the world…as long as you have a wi-fi connection.
Will ongoing calls intelligently switch between wi-fi and cell networks, or will already ongoing calls drop?
When you are on a call that begins while on WiFi, it will switch to the cellular network if the WiFi signal is too weak or is lost. Conversely, if you begin a call on a cellular network, you will remain on the cellular network, even if you come into range of a known WiFi network that you’ve connected to (for example, at your home).
Do you have any plans for republic wireless to work with hotspot network providers like Fon?
Although we currently don’t have plans in place to offer deals with any specific hotspot providers, our phones will work on those hotspots as long as you have an authorized connection with them.
Is it possible to force the phone into wi-fi or cell mode (if, for instance a wi-fi network is available but is unusable for calls)?
Yes, you may deactivate WiFi. Your phone in “airplane mode” will do this. Or you may simply just turn off WiFi itself. Your calls will roll over to our Sprint carrier when WiFi is turned off. We ask that you don’t make this a habit. Otherwise, well, you are defeating the purpose of our service, aren’t you?