I love the theory of using WiFi as a de facto bearer for voice telephony, with seamless integration and handover to a macro network. The promise of a voice telephony service that utilises WiFi locally, and cellular as a macro network service, is appealing; combined with seamless handover between the mediums and it sounds utopian. Costs should be lower, but more importantly, call quality and reliability should be higher; the carrier could offer SLA’s on calls made on a WiFi bearer, introduce features like HD voice and network core call recording relatively easily and make use of the ever increasing pool of latent capacity on networks, broadband or otherwise.
These sound like enterprise features. It sounds like this category is begging to be made. But until someone steps up to the challenge, we have to work with what is in-market right now; that is consumer-grade, and appeals to cost as the primary driver. And that is where Republic Wireless plays.
Its been hard to separate the three interwoven threads of the service; there is the Sprint-provided cellular service, the Moto G handset and the Republic Wireless MVNO service. Lets try though.
Moto G - This is an awesome device for its price point. The hardware is not the most top end, and it noticeably struggles if you push it even vaguely. The battery life is pretty decent (looks like I could get almost two days out of it), the screen is pretty good quality and overall it feels great in the hand. Other than those points, its a relatively new version of Android (4.4.2), and you can make it look, feel and behave exactly as you see fit.
Republic Wireless MVNO - The service experience of using Republic has been pretty awesome. I haven’t once resorted to phoning (good thing, because there is no number to phone), and the entire order and fulfilment process was carried out seamlessly, efficiently and electronically, including porting in a phone number from another carrier. I was kept constantly informed as per the order progress and status, as well as delivery. The user portal is mostly functional (giving you a list of in/out calls, and a bearer breakdown), but could do with some more functionality (like setting your forwards, being able to playback your voicemail, etc). It works though. I changed service plans from WiFi-only to WiFi and cellular in a matter of minutes through their pre-loaded application, a process that normally would require a phone call and three forms. Handover between WiFi and cellular is actually pretty good, and kudos to Republic for not loading the phone with tons of bloat. Its almost completely untouched.
Sprint - This is the least tested part of my experience thus far with Republic; but its also most evidently the annoying part. When on cellular, call setup times are long, call quality is not great, and successful call setup is average to poor. When using the phone this weekend, 2 out of 3 call setups in a mall failed. When the same recipient was called from another cellular service (AT&T) the call setup time was near instant (and they’re not on the same network) and all were successfully terminated / answered. I cannot comment on coverage, as I haven’t left San Francisco with it yet. Its not fair to comment on the data side of the service, as I chose the 3G service and not the fancy 4G service (rant : why do US carriers neglect or not bother with their 3G services and instead go full tilt with LTE deployment). Its also entirely possible that Republic chose a choked cellular data service to keep the price low. I therefore cannot comment on the data side.
From a costing perspective, this is available for easily half of T-Mobile’s rates, which themselves are, at minimum, 30% cheaper than “mainstream” options (AT&T and Verizon). If I was a consumer, and wanted cellular service, this would be a pretty easy de facto choice; save easily $50 per month, and support an exciting challenger (although it looks like the area is starting to hop up; check out FreedomPop). As a relatively heavy business user however, this doesn’t work as my primary option. Its let down by Sprint’s network. Pity.