Upstart wireless company Republic Wireless is gearing up to launch a $19 unlimited voice, text, and data plan next week, according to various reports. Apparently they’ve built a proprietary “Hybrid VoIP/cellular” platform that’s very similar to UMA calling. UMA, perhaps best known for showing up in certain T-Mobile smartphones, is basically a system for routing voice and messaging traffic through Wi-Fi instead of cellular whenever possible. In T-Mobile’s case, UMA allows for “free” voice minutes – and often better reception – when a Wi-Fi network is available. In Republic’s case, Hybrid VoIP/cellular is the secret sauce that’s going to make $19/month unlimited plans possible. Or so the blogs believe right now.
Republic Wireless has a bit of pre-launch credibility in the form of a GigaOm article detailing its supposed bloodlines and plan of attack: There’s corporate parent Bandwidth.com, an established provider of, yes, bandwith as well as VoIP services. There’s an apparent deal in place with Sprint to use their CDMA network for voice and data “roaming,” when Wi-Fi isn’t available. And there are screenshots of generic Android phone screens with the new carrier’s name on them. All of which could be a ruse, a fake trail of fake gold bricks headed straight to fake town – just like the trail Zero1 Wireless laid for the mobile media a few years back.
Back then it was AT&T’s cellular plus VoIP plus magic software equals low cost unlimited everything on any GSM phone! Except the whole Zero1 thing turned out to be a pyramid scheme, or some such legally dubious venture that led to a bunch of legal threats levied at various members of the media and at least one multimillion dollar judgement against them.
Now it’s Sprint’s cellular plus VoIP magic software equals low cost unlimited everything on special CDMA phones! Or something like that. Republic hasn’t officially announced anything other than “On November 8, everything changes.” Like I said, Republic has at least a bit of credibility going for it in the form of its parent company, who seems to have the infrastructure and leverage to make a crazy scheme like, “$19 everything (mainly) over VoIP” happen. But there are all sorts of questions to be answered here:
- How is this going to work again? What phone(s) will be available? What’s the fine print going to look like when it comes to using cellular voice/data networks if WiFi’s not available?
- Can you really build a company based on $19 unlimited mobile plans? If too many people wind up using cellular too often, will they essentially crash the business model?
- Why in the world would Sprint want to get involved in this? Aren’t they already bleeding money and customers and jettisoning WiMax in favor of LTE and, oh yeah, trying to figure out why their brand-new savior phone (iPhone 4S) is plagued by unbelievably slow data speeds?
Lucky for us nothing’s been made official yet, so there’s plenty of time to come up with more questions before we really have the right to demand answers. I, for one, hope Republic Wireless turns out to be all that and a bag of chips. The technology is in place to at least allow early adopters to suffer through some hiccups – and limited handset choices – in the name of cutting their wireless bills by 400% or more. So it’s high time somebody came along and disrupted an industry that, frankly, has been in need of disruption for a long, long time now.
Zero1 turned out to be little more than a Ponzi Scheme (or whatever, exactly, you want to call them). Here’s hoping Republic Wireless actually makes good on their snarky promise of “Changing everything” starting next week.