Bandwidth.com, the VoIP provider for services such as Google Voice, just launched its very own mobile carrier. Dubbed Republic Wireless, the service’s biggest selling point thus far is an ultra-low monthly fee for unlimited data, text, and voice; the plan costs just $19 per month.
You’re probably thinking there’s a catch, and of course there is. Republic Wireless relies on Hybrid Calling technology, which uses Wi-Fi whenever it’s available and only switches back to Sprint’s cellular network when wireless networks are unavailable. Moreover, the service requires that users have Wi-Fi access at home and anywhere else they plan to use their phone.
That doesn’t sound like a recipe for blazing-fast mobile downloads, which may give some power users pause. But here’s catch number two: If your data usage gets too high, Republic Wireless reserves the right to boot you from the service. (To help you monitor your usage, the carrier will show users their “Cellular Usage Index” (CUI) and provide warnings when they start pushing the limits.)
On its website, Republic Wireless is pretty transparent about its approach: “Membership here is a privilege. So, over time, if you don’t bring your CUI back into a reasonable range, we’ll help you find a more suitable, traditional cellular carrier.” In other words, if you’re tearing through gigabytes on your current data plan, don’t even think about it.
There’s one more caveat to add to this picture: Currently the carrier offers just one phone, the Android 2.3-powered LG Optimus (more phones are on the way). We’re fans of this budget-priced handset, but it’s running an out-of-date version of Google’s OS and packs a rather sluggish processor.
So is Republic Wireless a good deal? It’s hard to find fault with the $19 monthly fee, but so far it seems the carrier is appealing to a very particular type of customer. If the Wi-Fi requirements and limited handset selection don’t phase you—and if you’re not a data hog—you could be looking at a pretty sweet offer. Just keep in mind that the “unlimited” plan is really anything but.