Republic Wireless, the new MVNO that aims to offer unlimited voice, messaging and data for $19/month (plus about $5 in taxes and fees), has started sending out invites to a new Beta round.
Republic says they are able to offer unlimited service at such a low price by using custom phone firmware, which routes all traffic to WiFi if it's available. They launched an initial Beta in November. That Beta was closed after only a day, with a promise that it would reopen the Beta in early 2012. In March the company blogged that the Beta reopening had been postponed until June.
This week several people who signed up at republicwireless.com/join to be notified when the service was available received emails asking them to confirm that they were still interested.
The price of entry has gone up however. First Beta participants paid a promotional $99 price for month's service and a modified LG Optimus S. Although a timeline on Republic's site indicates that a new Republic phone would be announced this month, the invitees are reporting that they being asked to pony up $199 for the same Optimus S and month's service.
The Optimus S is a great entry level Android phone, but it is two years old and being replaced in the market by the Optimus Net which has a faster processor. Even with custom firmware and $19 worth of service, $199 seems like a high price for the phone which is essentially the same hardware as Virgin Mobile's $129.99 Optimus V and MetroPCS' $99.99 Optimus M.
The concept of using available free WiFi instead of scarce mobile bandwidth is a sound one. There are a lot of technical and practical challenges, but I'm rooting for Republic to make this work. If the service is reliable and the company profitable enough to stay in business, the $199 initial cost would be peanuts compared with the monthly savings.