Seemingly out of nowhere, a new wireless brand Republic Wireless, a division of Bandwidth.com, announced earlier this month that it would revolutionize and shake up the mobile industry by introducing a Hybrid Calling plan that costs only $19 a month. This plan has indeed gone live today over at RepublicWireless.com, together with the first and only mobile device the company is offering (for now) - the LG Optimus.

The low-cost offering is made possible thanks to heavy reliance on Wi-Fi data - Republic Wireless devices are designed to prioritize Wi-Fi networks, and certain measures have been put in place to make sure you don't hog an unfair share of the mobile network (powered by Sprint).

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I've read through everything RW's site has to offer, and while I have to remain skeptical, or rather suspicious of how well this setup will work, I have to say - if you're looking to cut down that wireless bill, the idea is quite brilliant. In fact, it's almost like getting a Wi-Fi-only device with mobile data and voice capabilities hacked on and prioritized way down.

If you use a lot of voice minutes or large amounts of data, Republic Wireless may not be for you just yet, but I can think of many people who would find this kind of plan ideal (grandparents and less tech-savvy people immediately come to mind).

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Breaking It Down

Let me summarize the most important bits in my favorite bullet-point style - they will hopefully make your decision-making process simpler:

  • The monthly cost to join is indeed $19, though you still have to add tax (let's make it $21). No hidden fees, no administrative charges - just $19 + local taxes.
  • There are no contracts.
  • There are no ETFs (early termination fees).
  • There is only one device at launch - LG Optimus currently running Android 2.3 "Gingerbread."
  • In order to sign up, you have to pay a $199+tax start-up fee, which includes the phone - a rather steep price, which should be offset by the cheap monthly price in only a few months. The first month's fee is also included into the $199+tax, so the monthly bill will not kick in until the 2nd month.
  • New replacement devices are available at $149, and refurbished ones will cost you only $49-$99. Not bad at all for those concerned about having to buy phones at full price in case something happens to them while you're still in contract.
  • You have 30 days to try the service with a full money-back guarantee.
  • You cannot bring outside phones into the network - usage is limited to devices purchased from Republic Wireless.
  • The phones are configured to always prefer Wi-Fi and only switch to 3G, which is backed by Sprint's CDMA network, when absolutely necessary.
  • Here's the kicker - Republic Wireless will keep track of your 7-day usage using what they call your Cellular Usage Index (CUI). You're encouraged to monitor and keep it at a "reasonable range," or else...
  • Republic Wireless says you could consume 550 minutes, send 150 texts, and download 300 megabytes of 3G data per month and still be within a reasonable CUI - not bad at all.
  • So what does happen if you go over? Well, that's not exactly clear - you will be contacted, at first with some helpful tips, and then with a timeline to correct the problem. Presumably, if you don't, you will get kicked out, but Republic Wireless steers clear of saying exactly what happens.
  • Data, minutes, and texts are all unlimited - well, as long as you use Wi-Fi and don't let your CUI get out of control. Not truly unlimited - just kind of.
  • Phone calls over Wi-Fi will transfer to a 3G network if you leave the Wi-Fi area, but you will experience a pause and hear a tone signaling the switch. Not seamless, but at least the call won't be dropped.
  • Making phone calls over Wi-Fi is transparent to you - you just dial. There is no special app - just the dialer.
  • You need a Wi-Fi connection that can sustain 80kbps up and down, which means any broadband should theoretically be enough. Just make sure you don't saturate your network with all that torrenting and YouTubing (yeah, that's now a word).
  • International calling is not available at launch, but it's in the cards sometime in the future.
  • Domestic roaming is included for free. There is no international roaming (good luck finding a CDMA network outside the U.S. anyway - they're quite rare), but you can dial U.S. numbers while abroad by using Wi-Fi.

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The Phone

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  • System: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • Dimensions: 4.47" x 2.32" x 0.52"
  • Weight: 4.6 oz.
  • Display: 3.2" LED touch-sensitive screen
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth® 2.0; Wi-Fi® IEEE 802.11 b/g
  • Power: Standard Li-ion Battery (1500 mAh)
  • Talk Time: Up to 5 hours
  • Standby Time: Up to 360 hours
  • Speed: 3G
  • 3.2 Megapixel Camera/Camcorder. Capture high-resolution images and video clips with ease when getting the shot means getting the contract.
  • MicroSD Memory Card Slot: 2GB pre-installed, supports up to a 32GB card
  • Software: Android Market, Google apps (Gmail, Gtalk, Calendar, YouTube, Google Maps/Navigation, Voice Actions, etc), Swype,

$99 Promotion (Half Price)

Use code welcome19, join before November 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm ET, and you'll get the phone and first month of service for half price (see FatWallet for more info).

Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what Republic Wireless is all about - proceed to RepublicWireless.com if you're interested and let us know your thoughts. Is anyone biting the bullet right away?