Is Republic Wireless Really Unlimited?

Republic Wireless just opened up their $19 / month unlimited minutes, unlimited text and unlimited data plan. The social media world has been clogged with thousands of posts about this for the last 2 weeks. The idea is very promising: offering unlimited minutes so you can call anyone or receive phone calls, unlimited outgoing and incoming text messages, and unlimited online browsing and data usage, and all for only $19 a month without any contract. The biggest and most important part of the news is the way this will work: over wi-fi networks.

The idea is not completely new. Vonage tried and is continuing to try something similar: offering a home phone service all via your home internet connection. Republic Wireless takes that to the next level: allowing you to carry a cell phone anywhere you want and connect primarily through wi-fi networks to make your calls, send and receive txts, and consume as much data as you wish. Republic Wireless says that everything is offers is unlimited, and there is no limit on anything.

Now that the service and the details are official out, it is time to ask: Is Republic Wireless really unlimited?

The Catch – Limited Cellular Usage

Is Republic Wireless really unlimited?In the “Republic Wireless – What’s the Catch?” section, the company tells you that everything is unlimited, and that you can call, txt and go online as much as you want. However, this is where things get interesting: Republic Wireless tells you that anytime there is no wi-fi signal, you’ll be on the Sprint cellular network, like any regular Sprint cell phone user. And if, while being without wi-fi and being on the Sprint cell towers, you go over 550 voice minutes (incoming or outgoing, including voicemail), 150 texts (incoming or outgoing), and 300mb of data (all the data usage on your phone from updates to social networking to email and more), you’ll be given a warning to bring down your usage or find another provider.

Here lies the problem: Republic Wireless is NOT unlimited. Since there is a tremendous amount of shortage of wi-fi access compared to actual cell phone tower access, you’ll most probably always end up using Sprint cell towers for calls, txts or any data usage, anytime you leave your house, assuming that your house has wi-fi. The last time I checked, anytime I leave the house, I have limited access to wi-fi. Also, even if you live in a city like San Francisco where there are more wi-fi access points on each block than the number of Starbucks in the entire city (yes, that many!), most or all of them are secure. That means they are locked. That means you cannot access the internet via them.

Wi-fi access in America is still very limited

All this means your wi-fi cell Republic Wireless cell phone will work only when you are on a wi-fi network that you are allowed to connect to. Ever imagine why so many people run to Starbucks to play on their laptops? They get their drug dose and they get wi-fi at the same time. That tells you how our current state of wi-fi currently is. We have wi-fi at places like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and even on trains like BART. Here is the problem with wi-fi networks:

  • Wi-fi networks are not always free. That means many or most of the wi-fi networks you can access will be locked.
  • Majority of public wi-fi networks require you to sign up OR perform extra steps via the browser to start using them. This means you can’t simply be in a wi-fi network and expect your phone to work instantly.
  • Ever test the range of the wi-fi in your home itself? It’s very limited. Every time you go out, walking even 10 feet probably means the wi-fi you were on is now history. Your phone needs to find a new wi-fi every minute of your walk, OR it will start using the Sprint cellular network.
  • When was the last time you found a free public wi-fi everywhere you went, ate, drove, watched a movie (oooooh, keeping the cell phone on during a movie, are we? ;) ), got gas (do gas stations still blow up via cell phones ringing?), bought grocery, went to the beach, walked in a museum, took the train, took the bus, or simply went out for a walk or driving? Majority of all such times were probably without any wi-fi access. With Republic Wireless, all such times and places will result in your phone using the Sprint cellular network.
  • Republic Wireless says you need around 80kbps both ways (download and upload) to be able to have a call that does not get dropped. Even if you get wi-fi access publicly or anywhere, your call, text and data quality (of transfer for data) and reliability (of processing successfully) will depend on the amount of bandwidth your actual cell phone will have on that wi-fi network. If there is even one other person on the wi-fi, chances are your wi-fi speeds will not be great. It will probably be over 80kbps, though add in text messages and full time data usage on an Android phone that is required to have with Republic Wireless, and you’ll start realizing you need another wi-fi network nearby or that you want to switch to cellular usage.

Unless you do not use your phone that much the whole day and are rarely on the move, or unless you move a lot but do not use your phone that much at all and can wait till you get to a wi-fi, you will most probably be using the Sprint cell towers regularly and probably every hour of the day. You will be counting down your 7-day limit of 550 minutes, 150 text and 300mb of data every day probably. This may not be much for many people, though in today’s day and age of social networking where we are on Facebook, Twitter and now Google Plus a lot, in addition to checking our Gmail every second of the day, 300mb of data is nothing.

What happens when you cross that limit? Republic Wireless will warn you, and then kick you

Bes Zain's Evo usage, on Sprint, in less than 5 hours

Bes Zain's Evo usage, on Sprint, in less than 5 hours

If you cross over 550 voice minutes, 150 text and/or 300mb of internet usage over a cell network in 7 days, you will be placed on a kind of a probation to bring down your non-wi-fi usage on your cell phone. Republic Wireless will send you a warning email. And yes, checking that email on your phone without a wi-fi will add to that data usage. Republic Wireless says that its customers are “members.” I love that word, since it gives a more cozy feeling to being part of a community.

That coziness of course comes with the price of being kicked out of the community anytime, legally, if you start doing too much in the community.

Republic Wireless calls it the “It’s not us. It’s you.” phenomenon. It will definitely teach you how to break up with your next girl/boyfriend with more confidence and without the runaround.

“It’s not us. It’s you.” : If you do not bring down your cellular network usage after the warning, you’ll be told to find another company to go with. For me, my cell phone company has to be reliable and truly unlimited. I cannot afford (physically and mentally) to always be on the lookout to not go over my cell phone provider limits, or to always be scared that I can be booted by the company so easily. You can see my data usage from this morning alone in the picture in this post. I had my wi-fi on for a little bit when I installed those network monitoring apps (installed at different times), and then I switched back to the cell network for data usage.

In less than 5 hours, since I installed those apps to monitor my usage, I was in a total of 155 minutes of phone calls, 128 txts (yes, I can send less than what I receive) and had a total of 337.8mb of data usage (253.7mb on the cellular network and 84.1mb on the wi-fi). All of this was from around 7:15am to around 11:29am. By the way, this includes the time I’m on my laptop, which means I am not on my phone as much. If I was on the Republic Wireless network, I would probably be arrested, tied up and thrown out of the Republic Wireless community gates instead of being sent a warning email. Some communities are not meant for you. At least Republic Wireless does not seem to be safe enough for me.

The Phone: LG Optimus

Your Republic Wireless plan comes with an LG Optimus S. Yes, this is the same phone that Sprint offers with one major difference: Republic Wireless seems to have actually modified the hardware and the software to have all calls, internet usage, and text messages route via wi-fi first. If there is no available wi-fi, then the phone will tap into the Sprint cell towers to start behaving like a regular Sprint-network LG Optimus phone.

Katie has an LG Optimus S at the moment. We are with Sprint directly (paying the full premium price for the premium plans), and I have to say: LG Optimus S sucks. There are many other ways to describe the phone, but that is the most professional way for me that does justice to describe what the phone defines for me. It constantly crashes, the battery needs to be taken out to restart, and the actual screen display shows jibberish constantly now after a few months of usage regardless of what rom I put on it (stock or cyanogenmod). It is not a phone I recommend to anyone. Of course, the models that Sprint handed out when Katie got that phone may have been poor quality, or that phone alone may have been bad. Republic Wireless says that it has modified the phone, so hopefully that will mean enhancements.

Republic Wireless changing the actual software may also mean one thing: absolutely no rooting for your Android unless someone starts working on Republic Wireless LG Optimus S specifically. Depending on the number of people actually using Republic Wireless, this could change. The rooting community always bases its work on the number of people out there using the product, and the age of the product. LG Optimus S model itself is now (as of this week) over a year old: it was first released on on October 31st, 2010. Republic Wireless may actually be breathing new life into this specific brand model. If there are no custom roms out for the Republic Wireless LG Optimus within the next few months, there may never be. Republic Wireless has made it clear that the LG Optimus is only one of the first phones it plans to roll out. When the next phone comes out, LG Optimus will be even more outdated. If you’re wanting an Android phone just to root it, this phone may NOT be the one you want.

Currently, the $199 you pay for the phone includes the first month’s $19 service fee.

Remember, though: if you cancel your contract, you’ll have a Republic Wireless and Sprint enabled LG Optimus phone on your hands. Try selling that to someone else these days after you cancel.

Does Bes recommend Republic Wireless?

Republic Wireless is cool to test out. It may also be very cool for people who know, for a fact, that they are always in a wireless network that they have access to. Otherwise, you always have your emergency minutes, txts and data usage allotted to you by Republic Wireless to be used on the Sprint cellular network.

Republic Wireless is like MetroPCS with a Vonage type twist. If Republic Wireless support is anything like MetroPCS support, I recommend you stay away. No, don’t stay away. Run away. However, it seems currently Republic Wireless is more polished than MetroPCS at the moment. Only time and actual support will let you and others know how Republic Wireless support actually fares. Remember how MetroPCS currently behaves: they offer unlimited minutes, data plans and texts, but they also offer horrible support. If anyone gave me MetroPCS service as a gift, I will sit them down and ask them why they are mad at me. No joking: that’s how a company before Republic Wireless fares out these days. Hopefully Republic Wireless can add more than just wi-fi to its cell phone plan.

Republic Wireless aims to do the same thing as other cheaper cell phone services with one distinction: wi-fi technology. Let’s see if it works out. I really hope it does. I have been moaning on Twitter for over a year that I would love to have tablets like the iPad make actual phone calls (using cellular networks), which would result in me getting rid of my phone instantly. Maybe Republic Wireless initiative is the first big step towards having devices use wi-fi for actual cellular network actions. If Republic Wireless comes out with a tablet doing the exact same thing, I’ll probably jump in right away and buy that tablet on day 1. I may not ditch my phone immediately, though I’ll still get such a tablet.

  • If you make very few phones calls and go online only occasionally, yes, get this deal.

    The brand new Republic Wireless with its new shiny and modified LG Optimus (S) phone may be one of the best chances for you to get a smartphone, get an Android and get an awesome plan.

  • If you are a heavy user, or a bit like me, no, do not get this deal.

    Stay away from this deal unless you know you’ll regularly be around around wi-fi access points that you can actual tap into. At only $19 / month, however, this phone may be a very good way to test things. The $199 one time fee, however, destroys that awesome “Ooooh I can test this for $19 only!” feeling.

What do you think? Are you truly free with Republic Wireless?

How is the wi-fi network in your life and part of the planet? Do you think Republic Wireless is perfect for you? Will you get Republic Wireless? Do you see any similarities among Republic Wireless, Vonage and MetroPCS? Would you recommend Republic Wireless as a gift to someone who does not use their phone that much? Do you have many wi-fi hotspots available with full access to you in your daily moves?

The big question: would you be happy to get Republic Wireless as a gift from someone this holiday season?

Let me and others know what you think in the comments below. Thanks for reading! Hopefully you were reading this on your cell phone on wi-fi (unless you’re not on Republic Wireless).