Republic Wireless is a new Sprint MVNO that is promising unlimited voice, messaging and data for $19 per month, less than half the cost of any other carrier's unlimited prepaid plan. The company says the low price is possible because Republic switches voice, messaging and data traffic to WiFi whenever it's available. Sounds great and if it works as advertised it could turn out to a good choice for many people. But, as Republic points out, it's not for everyone. Here's what you need to be aware of:
It's not really unlimited. Republic expects you to use WiFI most of the time. There is a fair use policy driven by what Republic calls the "Cellular Usage Index" (CUI) which is basically a counter that tracks your usage of the Sprint network. If your CUI gets too high, Republic will warn you and if you continue to use too many cellular resources they will kick you off.
How much cellular use is too much? Republic says that even if you never use WiFi you would be OK using 550 minutes, 150 texts, and 300 megabytes of data per month. If you use less of one type of service you can use more of the others. So there's some kind of index. It would be nice if they told us what the relative weights of each type of usage are.
I did a quick back of a napkin calculation based on fellow Sprint MVNO PlatinumTel's PayGO rates of 2¢/text, 5¢/minute and 10¢/MB. On PlatinumTel, 1 MB equals 5 texts or 2 minutes. Assuming Republic's ratios are the same, $19 buys you 275 + 30 + 300 = 605 MB. So in terms of TracFone style units you get a bucket of 1210 units, a voice minute costs 1 unit, a text 0.4 units and a MB of data 2 units. Note that this is strictly a guess, the actual numbers may be completely different. But if my guess is anywhere near correct it does show that, even without WiFi, Republic's rates are very low. Their suggested maximum cellular usage of 550 min, 150 texts and 300 MB would run you $60.50 on PlatinumTel.
Free WiFi isn't all that common You probably have WiFi at home. If you are a college student there's likely a campus WiFi network you can hop on. Workplaces often have WiFi, but its use is frequently restricted to "approved" devices (and good luck getting your IT department to approve a Beta service from a company they may never have heard of). Public hotspots at cafes, libraries etc., usually require you to open the browser and accept some terms of service before you can use the network. That's OK if you want to browse, but a bit of a hassle if you just want to use WiFi to keep email synced.
You have to buy a new phone. The only phone that works on Republic is a specially modified LG Optimus S Android phone (image right) for $199, which includes the first month of service. You can get the phone and month's service for $99 with the code welcome19, which is good until November 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm ET.
Beta sign-ups are full After less than a day Republic has temporarily stopped taking new customers. There's a form where you can sign to be notified when they are taking orders again.
Your service won't start for 30 to 60 days This is a big one and makes me skeptical of Republic business model. Even before they shut off orders they were warning prospective customers that "You’ll get your membership startup package in the mail within 30 to 60 days of your order". I'm assuming "membership startup package" equals the phone. I do hope they aren't charging customer's credit cards long before they ship. Republic's parent is Bandwidth.com (Wikepedia article) , a fairly large and well regarded company that provides VOIP services, mostly to businesses, so hopefully everything is on the up and up.
You may have to pay for support The Republic web page says "For a limited time, support requests will be handled free of charge" I sure hope support will be free at least until the service is running smoothly for most users.
The true monthly cost is about $24 not $19 Most other prepaid mobile operators include all taxes except state and local sales taxes in the plan price. Republic is adding a bunch of unspecified taxes. One user on HowardForums who managed to order before ordering was shut down was charged $5.41 in taxes on the $19 plan, another was charged $4.17. Those are tax rates of 28% and 22%, far higher than any sales tax.
Here's what I think, Republic Wireless is a revolutionary idea that has the potential to shake up the mobile industry. If it works as advertised and your usage fits Republic's model it's a great deal. But it doesn't appear to be live yet and nobody outside of the company and some anonymous beta testers have actually used it. I recommend holding off until the company can actually ship and activate phones in a timely manner and users reviews start to appear.