New low-cost mobile carrier set for Tuesday launch

Republic Wireless will offer $19 monthly flat rate for calling, data on Android phone that can switch from Wi-Fi to cellular

A new wireless carrier is set to launch next week with plans offering unlimited data, voice and texting for $19 a month and no contract.

Republic Wireless, a division of Bandwith.com, will provide the service through Voice over IP using the nearest available Wi-Fi hotspot starting Tuesday, Nov. 8, a spokesman confirmed via email.

When a wireless phone user is traveling, the service will be provided through traditional cellular connections, initially over the Sprint network.

One important catch: Republic will require that its users have a new Android-based smartphone equipped with hardware and software that supports automatic switching from Wi-Fi to cellular. The device must have single phone number that works on both networks.

Republic hasn't disclosed further details on phones the network will support. The company said more details will be made available on the launch date.

Bandwidth.com already provides the network, called Inetwork, for Google Voice, Skype, and Phonebooth, a VoIP service for businesses.

Republic calls its Wi-Fi and cellular mixture "Hybrid Calling," a strategy it said reduces the costs for network services and makes the $19 flat monthly "membership" rate possible.

Republic estimates that smartphone users are within reach of Wi-Fi over 60% of the time, said the spokesman, Kevin LaHaise.

Republic is hoping its approach will offer users freedom from expensive contract plans, which can cost more than $70 a month from the major U.S. carriers.

"We are essentially building the carrier you'd build if you had to do it all over again," LaHaise added. "Everyone loves their phones, but hates their network.

"Everyone else sets rules and limits and boundaries and makes it easy for you to cross them, to go over, and to rack up costs you didn't realize you were incurring," LaHaise said. "So what we're offering is a new network, with Hybrid Calling, a Wi-Fi-first mentality, a flat-rate membership with no contracts, no overages and no fees."

Since Republic's service is based on VoIP calling, some have wondered how good the voice quality will be for users.

VoIP voice quality has improved significantly in recent years and is used widely by large corporations to support global customer contact centers and other functions, including employee-to-employee calling to reduce long distance charges.

Some of the older problems with lag, echo and a tinny sound have been mostly resolved.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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