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November 21, 2012

Republic Wireless Service Open to All at $19.95 Unlimited Monthly

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

Republic Wireless now offers unlimited voice/data/SMS for $19.95 on a pre-pay basis. No kidding. And the restrictions that applied to the beta phase of its service, including limitations of access to its cellular network have been lifted. “Unlimited” now means unlimited.  

Despite all expectations to the contrary, Republic Wireless, a division of Bandwidth based out of North Carolina, has brought a once-forlorn dream to fruition in the form of the Motorola (News - Alert) Defy XT and an absurdly low no-contract monthly cost. How is this possible? According to Republic, it is able to keep costs down through the use of its Hybrid Calling technology. Basically, the phone will default to a Wi-Fi signal if available to handle its data/voice transmission. But the crazy thing is that it will switch to Sprint’s (News - Alert) network when Wi-Fi is not available. As a token of good measure, Republic leaves you with the option to disable Wi-Fi altogether and use Sprint’s network exclusively. 

In order for Republic’s business model to turn a profit, the proportion of its customers’ use of Wi-Fi relative to the cellular network must be substantial enough to yield significant results. It is unclear how much research went into studying the patterns of its target customers’ smartphone habits. There must be some reason it lifted the restrictions that applied to its beta phase from information they derived elsewhere. By placing data limits on its users under the threat of lost service, Republic’s beta phase merely showed it how much people don’t like having their service revoked. What information does Republic have that justifies such a cavalier bet in the wireless game?

How many open Wi-Fi networks do you encounter on a daily basis other than your own? Many public places require some kind of security code. “That’s fine,” you say, “I am at my office/home most of the time, both of which have Wi-Fi.” First of all, it is reasonable to assume that data rather than voice constitute the bulk of smartphone traffic. After all, data puts the “smart” into “phone.” And “data” primarily applies to Internet-related activities such as browsing, streaming, downloading and the like. So the assumption is that the bulk of people’s data usage on smartphones is in areas with readily available Wi-Fi signals. However, those who have access to Wi-Fi at home/work generally have a desktop, notebook, tablet or some other device that justifies paying for the network and is more conducive to Internet activity. I don’t know anyone who set up a Wi-Fi connection solely for their smartphone.

If Wi-Fi were a sufficient provider of our data services, we wouldn’t have invented smartphones in the first place. Smartphones really shine precisely when you are away from Wi-Fi: walking home, riding the bus, waiting for your name to be called. If this is true, we can expect Republic to quickly vanish. Of course, I might be completely mistaken. Until then, I’m signing up for Republic’s service so I can figure out a way to download torrents to my smartphone.  

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Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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