Tired of restrictive contracts and costly overages? Republic Wireless is too. The newcomer has busted onto the scene with a service that is currently unmatched by Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. For only $19 a month, the company says it can provide smartphone users with unlimited voice, data and text without lengthy commitments and hidden fees. The catch? For most users, there isn't one.
To eliminate the expense of maintaining pricey cellular networks, Republic Wireless utilizes a hybrid calling technology that sends communications over Wi-Fi whenever possible -- and that's pretty often. The company reports that mobile users are around Wi-Fi about 60% of the time. If you happen to be outside the range of Wi-Fi, your handset will still have conventional WWAN connectivity (via Sprint).
The "unlimited" part isn't entirely true, but it's not untrue either. If used as intended with Wi-Fi, Republic Wireless should theoretically provide you with all the communication you desire. However, while the carrier won't slam you with overages, there are limits imposed on your cellular account. You get the equivalent of 550 minutes, 150 texts and 300MB of data, but those numbers aren't precise.
Your non-Wi-Fi footprint is calculated with a "Cellular Usage Index" (CUI), so there doesn't seem to be a limit on any given traffic type. In other words, your usage patterns are irrelevant as long as the sum of your activity doesn't exceed whatever CUI the company deems "fair." If you surpass that threshold, you'll receive tips on how to reduce your consumption, but again, there are no fees or speed caps.
The service is currently in limited beta and Republic Wireless only offers the LG Optimus. You can't transfer your existing handset, either. The company plans to add more phones in the future (send recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org). The Optimus along with your first month of service will cost $199 plus tax, which is refundable for 30 days. Subsequent months are only $19.
There are some other details worth noting. While domestic roaming is free, there's no international cellular support. Wi-Fi should let you call from anywhere in the world to the US, but Republic Wireless isn't open to international customers yet. You'll require approximately 80kb/s to chat with someone over Wi-Fi, so low-end DSL connections might be iffy when you factor in other network traffic.