It’s been about a month since we’ve mentioned Republic Wireless on Android and Me, when we covered its launch on November 8. Republic Wireless is a new type of cell phone carrier that offers unlimited calls, texts and data for an insanely cheap $19 per month. The $19 per month plan blows most pre-paid and post-paid phone plans out of the water, but there’s a fairly significant catch to the service that will prevent the service from being massively adopted.
The service was set up under the assumption that people are around and can connect to WiFi 60% of the time. When connected to WiFi, you can make calls, send text messages and use as much data as you want. When you’re connected to a mobile network (Sprint’s 3G network), Republic Wireless holds you to what it calls your “Cellular Usage Index (CUI).” The CUI is essentially a fair-use threshold, which limits your cellular network usage to approximately 550 minutes, 150 text messages and 300 MB of data under standard conditions.
Note: The CUI is not hard and fast and will fluctuate based on your usage. The CUI will essentially tie to how much WiFi vs. Cellular you use. If you use WiFi a ton (say the equivalent of 5GB), you’ll have much more leeway in your cellular data/minutes. Thanks, maciel310!
If you go over these caps, Republic Wireless will work with you to find ways to lower your cellular usage, and increase the time you spend on WiFi. If you continue your pattern of going over your limits, they can boot you off of their network.
When Republic Wireless launched a month ago, I promised that I’d order a device and report on my experience over a few weeks of the service. What follows are my first impressions after spending just 12 hours with the phone.
The Phone – LG Optimus
I didn’t really want to spend too much time talking about the device itself, as my intentions were to review only the service, but felt the phone was worth a mention so you knew what you’re getting yourselves into should you choose to join Republic Wireless.
Republic Wireless has only one phone available to date, the entry-level LG Optimus (though they’ve promised more are coming soon). Though the Optimus is one of the better entry-level devices out there, it doesn’t always reflect the best Android experience. It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread on a 600 MHz processor with a 3.2-inch touchscreen. The Optimus also has a 3.2 megapixel camera.
Though not the best device out there, the Optimus has handled all of the day-to-day tasks (email, twitter, facebook, etc.) just fine.
The primary network Republic Wireless runs on is whatever WiFi network you happen to be connected to. When you’re not connected to WiFi, you’ll revert to Sprint’s 3G network and be limited to the CUI we described above.
When you first turn on your cell phone, you’ll be prompted to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Once you do that, the set-up process is over, and you’ll have to launch a Google Application (such as Gmail or the Android Market) to log into your Google account. Once you’ve done both of these things, you should be good to go with your phone.
So far, most things I’ve done over both WiFi and Sprint’s 3G network have gone off without a hitch. I’ve made a few phone calls, sent a few text messages and done the usual social networking-type things.
I have, however, encountered one significant drawback to the service, which could potentially impact many potential customers: Republic Wireless cannot make WiFi calls on my work’s WiFi network. I have worked for two large healthcare companies in the last five years, and both employers set up their networks in the same way. When I want to connect to WiFi at work, I have to connect to our guest network, which requires I launch a browser to accept the terms and conditions on the WiFi network.
After accepting the terms and conditions, WiFi will work for data, and maybe text messages (not sure how to check that just yet), but it won’t allow me to make calls over WiFi. Assuming other companies implement WiFi networks in a similar way, that’s one-third of most people’s day where they can’t make calls (and maybe send text messages) over WiFi. This alone could cause people to exceed their cellular usage index and put them at risk for getting booted off the network.
Since Republic Wireless is still in a beta phase, we hope that they’ll work out these kinks over the next few months. The service does have the potential to be a game-changer, offering cheap cellular coverage to individuals who are able to connect to a WiFi network at least 60% of the time.
We’ll be using Republic Wireless as my daily driver for the next few weeks, and will write up a recap of the service in time for Christmas. What do you guys want to know? Leave your questions or thoughts in the comments.