Last week, we heard about plans for Republic Wireless to start offering cellular service with a unique mix of traditional 3G connectivity and VoIP-over-WiFi. By letting WiFi handle most of the heavy lifting, Republic was supposed to be able to offer unlimited voice, data, and text for only $19 a month. It was an intriguing concept, but we were left with a few questions over how the service would work, and what sort of smartphone options would be available. Republic has since launched its “hybrid calling” offering; does it still seem like a good deal?
We knew that it was likely you’d have to use a Republic-provided smartphone with its service, and that’s now confirmed. While we heard that Republic might look into a way to bring your existing phone, sometime in the future, for now your only option is a customized LG Optimus One. The normal $200 no-contract price Republic charges for the phone seems a little steep for that hardware, but the promotional $100 rate being offered through the end of the month is much easier to swallow.
The other big stipulation turns out to involve, not surprisingly, the use of 3G data. When there’s no WiFi around, the phone will roam on Sprint’s network. We had heard that 3G data usage would be unlimited, and while Republic is still shouting “unlimited” from the rooftops, that’s simply not true.
The problem is that there’s a nebulous balancing point between 3G and WiFi usage, and tipping too far into 3G will result in Republic nicely asking you to scale things back. The carrier says that, as an example, you could use 550 voice minutes and download 300MB of data over Sprint’s 3G network without causing a problem, but somewhere past that (who knows just how far?), Republic’s going to be on you to change your usage patterns. Don’t comply, and it will kick you from its service.
Just because Republic doesn’t set caps, or charge overages, doesn’t make its offering “unlimited”. The threat of having your service disconnected for passing a data threshold, especially one that Republic refuses to clearly define, is a pretty darn big limitation.
That said, the low price is still going to appeal to many users. We wish there was a selection of phones to choose from, and that Republic had a more definite policy regarding 3G usage, but we’re still very intrigued by this offering. Anyone thinking of checking it out?