Review: Republic Wireless Beta Hybrid Calling


By Richard V. Burckhardt

LG Optimus

The LG Optimus (photo from actual shipping box) is the phone available for the Republic Wireless beta program.

I’m an original iPhone user, grabbing one of the 2G iPhones when they first came out. And, I love my iPhone (currently on a 3GS) but what I don’t love is being forced into a data plan that costs more than my home broadband, especially when my data use is primarily over Wi-Fi. I have frequently wished I could get a good smartphone that didn’t require a data plan, but relied on Wi-Fi alone.

That’s where the idea of Republic Wireless comes in. Their plan, currently in beta, is basically opposite of what most mobile phone plans offer. Wi-Fi is the primary carrier with cellular the add-on. They expect their users (their “community”) to offload the majority of their phone use to Wi-Fi. When Wi-Fi isn’t available, cellular talk and data kick in. They call it “Hybrid Calling.”

For someone like me, who works from home and is covered by Wi-Fi something like 70% of the time, this is brilliant! I’m currently paying for two iPhones with rarely used data plans that cost more than my cable Internet (plus being slow and limited). With Republic Wireless, I pay $19 per month (plus tax) for each phone, covering talk and data. It’s so low because the majority of use is over Wi-Fi. If you go over your target offloading to Wi-Fi (expected to be 60% or more) you get notified of your overage and, if you continue, I’m guessing you are asked to leave the “community” nicely (this IS a beta, but I think that’s the idea).

You do have to purchase their modified LG Optimus phone for $199. It’s currently the only phone available, but more are apparently on the way. The Optimus includes auto-switching between Wi-Fi and cellular, though the ability to walk out of your office Wi-Fi and continue your call seamlessly on cellular is still in the works.

The Optimus is a nice Android phone, though as an iPhone user, I find the OS less polished than iOS, but still nice. And, the apps selection is huge these days, so if giving up my iPhone for it to save something like $100 per month (in my case), I’ll go for it.

The phone and data service are Sprint, which is fine with me as I’ve been considering ditching AT&T for a while (and, my contract just expired!). I’m already finding better signal quality on the service in a number of buildings here in the Palm Springs area where I get no signal at all on my iPhone. I even jail broke and unlocked my original iPhone so that I could put a T-Mobile SIM card in it as an emergency backup at one point. I could get a T-Mobile signal in a lot places where my AT&T iPhone was useless. As with all cellular services, signal strength will vary by location.

Naturally, before considering  joining the Republic Wireless “community” you would want to check the Sprint coverage maps for your area.

What about the quality? It sounds like a great idea to offload voice and data to Wi-Fi but does it really work? For me, it does. My voice calls over Wi-Fi have been just as clear as cellular calls have been. I know some folks in the “community” haven’t been so lucky. Maybe their Wi-Fi doesn’t get along with the phone for some reason. In my case, this is amazing. I loaded up the Optimus with Skype, a SIP app (for my work VOIP number) and synced it up with my Google Voice account. I get personal and business calls using a single device, though it can get a little confusing when a call comes in and the options are to answer using Google Voice or without. That’s new and taking some getting used to.

Since this is a beta, I wouldn’t recommend trying to port your number over or making this your sole telephone. Not yet, anyway. But, if you wanted to port your number to Google Voice and have calls to it ring on your new Republic Wireless number, well that’s definitely an option.

For now, I’m using Republic Wireless as a second line (at least until it’s out of beta), but I’m forwarding calls from my iPhone over to it. If my first couple of weeks are any indication of things to come, I will probably say goodbye to my iPhone as my primary phone and AT&T as my carrier. The savings potential is enormous for me.

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One comment

  1. Beware of the old bait and switch tactic I have signed up for broadband and phone deals here in New Zealand that were great only to have the terms change it seems a common tactic used these days to lure new customers in.

    However the plan your on sounds great just wish we’d get something like it here in New Zealand internet usage via phone here prices are expensive.

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