republic wireless hybrid calling BETA review

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When I saw that you could get a non-contract phone plan with unlimited calling, data and texts for $19/month, it was an easy decision to jump in.  republic wireless can offer this deal because it uses both the cellular network and WiFi, something they call hybrid calling, to route your calls and data.   This is perfect for me because I have poor to no cellular coverage at my home. There is also a pretty big catch in that this is in beta phase and not everything works as advertised.  You are also limited to one phone model that you must purchase from them.  They however, do offer a 30 money back guarantee, which should offset some of my concerns.  If you read on, I’ll share my experiences as a paying beta tester for the service.This is a review of the republic wireless cell phone plan and not a phone device review.  They offer only one device and it’s a Motorola Defy XT, modified to work on their network and with WiFi.  You cannot use this phone on another service, nor can you bring your own phone and modify it for use with republic wireless.

I came across republic about a year ago and put my name into the hat to become a user.  At that time their open spots filled up fast, and I was put on a waiting list.  Because of the demand, they came up with a concept called waves, and I was added to wave E, which came up for purchase in alphabetical order.  So, in late September I got the email and with credit card in hand, I signed up for the beta.  The cost was $249 for the phone, $29 startup fee including the first month service and $3.37 NH phone tax for a total of $281.37.

In two days I received the phone and was excited about activating the service.  Coincidentally, I had a  one week trip scheduled that would take me to Florida from New Hampshire via Amtrak.  This would allow me to check out the service over several states.

To activate, I had to go online and establish an account at their website.  This is where I got to pick my new telephone number and enter other data.  At this point I should have started to worry.  There were no numbers available for New Hampshire.  I picked one in New York, for no other reason than they had them available.  The next step was to take the charged phone and turn it on to begin the activation.

Now, one would think that as the service is billed as WiFi capable, you could activate over the WiFi.  This is not the case.  You must use the cellular network to get the phone started and as republic is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) of Sprint, I needed Sprint coverage in my area.  Well, I don’t have Sprint or any other cellular coverage in my area, so I hopped in the car and drove to a spot 5 miles away that had Sprint service and activated the phone.

After returning home, I enabled the WiFi capability on the phone, which worked flawlessly.  Once you enter a network’s particulars the phone remembers them for future use and automatically logs in.  Now I’m ready to make my first calls over WiFi and there’s a problem.  Apparently, republic made some changes to their back-end in previous months and some users were experiencing no audio from the called or calling party after 20-30 seconds.  This was my case and it seemed to only affect users with certain routers.  After much discussion on the republic community website,  republic acknowledged the problem and after 2 weeks had a fix.  Which brings up an interesting point.  The only way to contact republic is via the website using the forums.  There is no telephone number, email address or human you can verbally contact.  So no WiFi telephone calls for me for 2 weeks on the Defy.

Even though I had no WiFi phone call capability, I could use the device in a Sprint coverage area to make cell calls.  There was no problem except, you are limited to Sprint and roaming coverage in the 1900Mhz spectrum.  Evidently, republic procured a single antenna phone and at least in my area, most of the roaming partners use 800Mhz.  Again, republic acknowledges this issue and has said they will replace the single antenna phones with a dual antenna model before the end of the year.

Even though I couldn’t make calls from my house, I figured I could send text messages.  I was wrong.  Texts are only sent over the cellular network, not WiFi and because I had no cell coverage, the messages were in a sending state until I found cell coverage down the road.

On the positive note, the android apps worked very well both over WiFi and cellular, when I had coverage.  It was now time to see how the service performed while traveling down the East Coast from New Hampshire to Florida on the train.

While waiting for the bus to the train station, I connected to the WiFi in the terminal.  After the screen indicated a connection was established to the network I selected, I was presented with the station’s splash screen.  After accepting the terms, an icon on the phone turned green to indicate I would be calling using WiFi.  The phone will remember all successful connections and will connect automatically the next time they’re in range, but it does not remember the answers to the splash screens.  Those have to be entered each time.  I made some calls and checked my email.  All worked well.   I should point out that a call started on WiFi does NOT transition to the cellular network if you’re out of WiFi range.  It will redial the number you were connected to.  Supposedly, the folks at republic will be working on an automatic transition feature in the future.

My travel down to Orlando on the train was a disappointment as far as the phone was concerned.  The Amtrakconnect WiFi network could not be used with the DEFY and the only place I had cell coverage was near the major cities.  The area between Washington DC and Jacksonville Florida were Sprint free.  My Verizon and T-mobile phones worked well in those areas.

Upon arrival at the resort, I attempted to latch onto the local WiFi net and was advised via the splash screen I would need to pay $9.95 per day.  I opted out and used the 3G cell network until about three days in when I got a text from Sprint saying my phone was re-provisioned.   From that point on I had 1x cell coverage.  After about 24 hours of frustration I gave in and paid the daily fee for WiFi and was running at a better speed.  Interestingly, after being on WiFi for several hours, my cell service jumped back to 3G.

When I returned home I decided to cancel the republic service.  There are too many issues and I’m very concerned that this turns out to be another Peek case, where they have to replace devices and eventually the industry overtakes them and provides a cheaper alternative.  The $19 per month seems attractive until you look at the limitations such as no automatic transition from WiFi to cell; no texts on WiFi; limited roaming and no MMS.  I also wonder why I should pay republic to fix problems.  I’ve participated in several beta tests, and this is the first one where I had to pay the product provider.  If I don’t cancel and the republic service goes belly up, I’d be stuck with a $281 dollar paperweight.

Upon cancelling the service I received an email from republic with another big surprise.   They have additional detailed conditions for return of the phone that were not mentioned on their website.  Besides deducting dollars for missing parts (which is understandable), they now have a service charge of $50 for minor wear and tear and they define minor wear and tear with their decision being final.  Had I known this up front, I would never have entered the beta test to begin with.

My advice is the same as I gave in my Peek9 review.  Wait until there is more stability in the service and check their website and discussion boards to gauge whether they’ll be in business over the long-term.


Product Information

Price:$278 for the phone plus a month of service; then $19 per month for the service
Manufacturer:republic wireless
  • Sprint Coverage
  • WiFi
  • Web access for account maintenance
  • No contract
  • Low monthly service fee
  • Unlimited calling, texts and data
  • High initial cost
  • In Beta test
  • No texting using WiFi
  • No MMS
  • Single band phone
  • Limited cell coverage

24 thoughts on “republic wireless hybrid calling BETA review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. I’ve been using the Defy on Republic since Wave E and am very pleased with it. The cross-over from wifi to cell is flawless (here in Southern CA), sound quality is good and I’m quite pleased with it all. The only downside is that the Android is not upgradable and we are stuck with Android 2.3. I have ICS on my tablet, and it is far superior and faster than the old Android. As to support, I agree it is sometimes frustrating not to have direct tech support, but of the 3 questions I’ve posted on the forum, each has been answered quickly and accurately. I’ve also noticed that there are a few Republic reps who are often answering questions in the forum. So far, so good.

  3. >The cross-over from wifi to cell is flawless (here in Southern CA)

    Republic has stated themselves there is no “cross-over” built into their software. If you start a call on wifi and you move out of range, your call will drop. It’s not a matter of where you live.

  4. Bob Y,

    You are very fortunate to have the WiFi to cell hand-off work. From republic’s web site dated August 9, 2012:

    “What is the status of Wi-Fi to cellular handoff?

    This is still in the development stage. As with any new technology, it takes time to develop and test. We want to make sure we get it right so we’re committed and dedicated in making this feature a reality. As soon as we have more info we’ll let you know. Thanks for your support!”

    I haven’t seen any more information to suggest that it works now.

  5. Thanks for taking time to do evaluate! So far you haven’t found anything that over-concerns me. I’m using android 2.3 on Straight Talk I purchased refurbished for $79, plus $53 per month unlimited on 3G network. It does not work in some remote areas and runs on Sprint Network (I live in Overland Park, KS so I get good coverage here). I’m waiting for the dual band Defy they are releasing as I’m in wave F “beta”. I will finally get my wife to agree with having a cell– who is a “stay at home mom”! This will allow me to get her into technology and reach her when she is out!

  6. I don’t think hybrid calling is what anyone really expects, so I want to throw in myexperience with wi-fi only calling on the iPod Touch. I use Line 2 as my VoIP and I mainly use my phone at work and at home so there is rarely a time when I am not connected. For that, I have a MiFi that I only use when I am out of rannge of wi-fi with the minimum monthly data plan. I have been doing this for over a year at the cost of $9.95/month for Line2 and $35/month for Virgin Mobile MiFi. So my mobile phone cost me a total of $45/month and I can use my hotspot with my laptop and and iPad. I don’t think you can get much cheaper than this and be able to have an “almost iPhone.” The only downside has been using the earphones with the iPod Touch, but I’m excited for a new product coming out…The MorphCase ( which add the ear speaker and mic so you can use the iPod Touch just like the iPhone. I pre-ordered one (set to come out in 2013) for $35, but they said the retail price will be $49.99.

  7. Jesse,

    You are welcome and here’s an update on my story. Republic Wireless refunded the total amount I paid them and did not deduct for wear and tear. Thank you Republic, however, I continue to get emails informing me that they could not charge my credit card for the next months service. The reason is I used a one time credit card, a trick I learned when buying something with a monthly charge. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to stop these charges and your only option is to report the card misplaced so a new one is issued. In the case of the Peek fiasco, I had to have a new card issued. They kept charging for months after I cancelled the service.

  8. I should clarify: when I used the word “crossover,” I did not mean to imply that I go from cell to wifi during a call. I only meant that when I’m out of range of wifi and make or receive a call it goes to cell with no problems, and when I’m at home, the phone goes wifi with no problems.

  9. Bill,

    A very informative review. The irony with your review is that more and more people are starting to come to the realization as you did – RW is NOT always upfront about things, almost down right deceitful; and they use silence as a way to not answer the tough questions when customers want straight answers without all the double talk. While charging for “wear and tear” may not be completely unreasonable, you are right, they mention that NOWHERE in their communications with customers and it is nowhere to be easily found on their website. And that deceitful practice of throttling you back to 1X after you were forced to use cell during your stay, UNACCEPTABLE. And you can rest assured that Sprint explained that to RW when they signed with them. All in all, RW’s public image and the bad PR that they are getting throughout the web on various sites is WELL DESERVED. As I like to point out to people, RW has NO business sense about them when dealing with the general populous to run a cell phone company. Case in point, Ting opened their door 3 months after RW did, 3 MONTHS, but look at Ting now, they have taken off like gangbusters – even offering the new Samsung Galaxy S3; and here you have RW using a phone that has two-year old technology. Anyone with a half-objective mind really must see that whoever is running the show over at RW doesn’t have a clue on how to make this business venture fly. It has been almost a year and here they are still doling out their phones and service in waves, and all under the auspices that they are in ‘beta’. I mean, come on, they have been working on this seamless cell-to-wifi handoff thing since they created the division back in Jan. 2010 – almost 3 years ago, and they STILL can’t get it to work. They offer NO customer service and NO customer support, and despite what others may say, especially their shills, plants and fanboys over at their forums, making people jump through hoops to babysit forum posts daily to see if someone has chimed in to answer your question or help when you have difficulties is NOT customer service. I found a review over at Yelp where a customer was outing them for always telling customers to open ticket after ticket after ticket to get help but the tickets went ignored and he could never get any help. All in all, this is a very shady company. Employees are outing by giving them scathing reviews on GlassDoor for how they actually operate the business and I read that the Sr. Vice President that was in charge of RW left because he could no longer stand how they wanted to run the division and treat customers (poorly, that is).

    People reading reviews to learn the truth about what customers are saying about RW should check out the Yelp reviews.

    More people who are feeling mistreated by RW or don’t agree with their harsh business practices to keep customers in the dark, especially for a so-called beta, need to give more 1-star reviews to to help warn others about them and how to avoid them.

    PS: Great move on using the one-time credit card for purchases like this where they may try to charge you again under a monthly billing plan. I, too, use that tactic, especially with unknown companies or companies that get bad reviews from the general public. And isn’t it amazing, you cancelled your account with them but they are still trying to bill you $19/month. Yeah, this is a company that can’t get a handle on how to run a business effectively.

  10. A year ago l almost joined Republic, but I forgot to reply to their email before the allotted time to enroll ended. After reading you’re review I’m glad I didn’t!
    Thanks for the information 😉

  11. I’m leaving Verizon, and was on the fence between Straight Talk and Republic Wireless. When I read that it runs on freedom, I was hooked. But this review has given me pause, especially since it’s so recent.

    So, thank you for the review, Mr. Kuch.

  12. Many thanks,

    I’m actually in the next “wave” of signups..But having second thoughts. A spendthrift, definitely am. But the cost of the phone is really really high imo…currently have sprint and they have yet to let me down in coverage, but then again don’t go many places. But since I have a cool employee plan, don’t think giving it up for something so unproven and expensive to entry is wise. And again, many thanks.

  13. I’ve been using RW as an A Waver since December of 2011. I’m still using the LG Optimus S with an extended battery. In a word: ADEQUATE. Not great, not fast, and NOT designed for heavy cell phone users. If you’re the sort with good Wifi at home and at work, and you would use no more than 450 min per month voice and less than 100 texts per month, and don’t need MMS, and wouldn’t use more than 600mb data outside your wifi zones per month, then RW is absolutely for you. I defy anyone to get anything remotely similar for less than $70/month, taxes etc included. With RW, total is $24/month. Any time I talk with anyone using a fancy new phone and they comment on my clunker of a phone, they get scary quiet when I mention the monthly fee. Even if I save only $50/month, that’s $600/year. And I’m not even including the $100 discount on the phone, and the several months of free service while waiting for upgrades. RW as noted above CLEARLY has room to improve in customer service. It is very much NOT for heavy duty cell phone/data users. But for the many of us who want bare bones cell/data without getting raped by Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and the grandaddy rapist of all, ATT . . . it’s good to have a startup alternative.

  14. One addendum. The ONLY way any phone can do text messages is over a cellular signal. I can’t happen over Wifi unless you use google voice, and that has yet to be optimized (your phone won’t notify you when a new text comes in, you have to keep looking at the site). Anyone who is complaining that RW can’t do texts over Wifi doesn’t understand the technology. As for RW not doing MMS, my guess is that it consumes too much cell signal bandwidth, so they basically avoid it for now. In the meantime, Big Cell charges a fortune for text messages that use up almost NOTHING in terms of cell bandwidth . . . simply because they are greedy scum. I plan to keep supporting RW since I can’t stand Big Cell. It’s sort of like voting for Obama because you can’t stand Romney.

  15. I was in a previous wave and I’m waiting for the dual band phone that operates over 800mHz and 1900mHz. I have been keeping myself updated and interacting with those folks via the community on RW’s website. It seems that most people (a) are looking for a full fledged service provider with all the kinks knocked out instead of being aware of what beta testing truly involves and (b) have not kept tabs are asked the right questions before joining.

    The reviewer knew he didn’t have great sprint service until he was 5 miles away and still decided to purchase the single band phone. There are also OTA updates coming out soon (likely before the dual band is released, so that it’ll come out with new software changes to those wave F and beyond) that are to correct roaming, swype, and call quality over wifi. Not to mention that MMS is also on the docket with wifi/cellular call transitioning being down the road as well. If you talking in McDs on wifi and need to continue either turn off wifi (kinda against the point of reducing cellular consumption) and go on cellular or end the wifi call and say “I’ll call you back in a sec.”

    Between the “community” on RW’s website and their Ask Us section for current members it seems that they are trying to help out as much as they can with the staff that they have. I’m satisfied with the staff and member response that I’ve received and tons of other people are too, of course, there is always going to be those who aren’t.

    It’s also good to note that not all wifi connections can handle VoIP, but my friend who has a single band phone has no problem at the usual spots (McD’s, Starbucks, Home, Office).

    RW said that this is an option for reduced price and quality, though not top-of-the-line, brand new phone options, something like that. It is a good phone with Gingerbread Android that gets the job done.

    Overall, do the research and know what we all may be getting ourselves into. I think it’s for some, but not for others. Best of luck!

  16. I have been with RW since the beginning, Wave A-er Dec 2011. Here is the fair comparison to other companies: Service is glitchy (just like any other cell company), customer service sometimes is unsatisfying (just like any other cell company) and company-to-customer communication is just as glitchy and unsatisfying. But, THE PRICE IS EXTREMELY LOW. I feel it is fair for Unlimited voice/text/data without a contract. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc can’t beat it, as they are too busy being greedy.

    When RW has made mistakes, I benefited by receiving free monthly service and a free phone upgrade to their now current Motorola Defy XT. That is fair. I feel respected. This is a small, beta company that has made (slow) progress and I am pleased. To repeat what Al Winston stated, text can be done only over cell and that is how all companies do it. When anyone complains about it, they are ill-informed. Also, RW does not yet support their goal of seamless cell-wifi call crossover (which is the mid-call, uninterrupted switching from cell to wifi or vice-versa). It has only been a stated goal and has not YET been implemented. Still, ill-informed people complain because they are confusing it with automatic wifi connections.

    At this time, RW still is not for everyone. It cannot yet be depended upon for heavy users, especially those doing business over the phone. RW has a different business model that many simply refuse to understand. The company is named “Republic” for a reason: one of the unique things about RW is that the forum community provides the initial wave of customer service (and it works for most needs) and this contributes to the lower price. I have yet had the need to contact RW’s in-house customer service for anything. My experience has been that good.

    RW does make it clear to the prospective customer that they are a beta service and that patience is appreciated, yet…people complain because they need an underdog to kick to try to feel “better” about themselves. Sly Ostinato repeatedly posts anti-Republic Wireless rants all over the internet. Sly, it was $19 per month for unlimited everything without a contract from a beta startup. Were you expecting perfection? Get over it. Some people apparently require expensive customer service personnel to hold their hand. Reasonable, thrifty and self-sufficient grownups can save lots of money with Republic Wireless. Just go into it expecting things to be different. Different is good.

  17. Daniel,

    I appreciate the feedback and your perspective on the republic wireless service; however, there are a couple of misconceptions in your comments. You state “The reviewer knew he didn’t have great Sprint service until he was 5 miles away and still decided to purchase the single band phone.” Please read the second sentence of the review where I say “This is perfect for me because I have poor to no cellular coverage at my home.” Perhaps I should have been more precise and said I have NO Sprint coverage and some ATT, Verizon and T-Mobile coverage at the end of my driveway. I was counting on Sprint roaming coverage. You also state in the same sentence that I purchased a single band phone anyway. The truth is that it was only realized that the Defy XT had just a 1900 Mhz antenna until after I received the phone, thus not allowing roaming on the 800 Mhz band. You can check the republic blog. They were as surprised as the users. Believe me; I spent many hours scouring the RW forums before making a decision to buy. I waited until one day before my invitation expired before hitting the buy button.
    Be that as it may, I have no vested interested in seeing RW succeed or fail. It’s good that there are passionate users out there and they may make RW successful. Because of the foul-up with the dual band phone, I am not willing to bet $281 plus $24 per month for who knows how long, waiting for things to settle down. Perhaps a year from now, if RW is out of beta, I’ll give it another try. For now I can live with my $9/month T-Mobile feature phone for calls and my iPod for WiFi calling, texting and other web activities. With WiFi hotspots becoming ubiquitous, it’s not difficult to get connected.

  18. Interesting how they can’t get the handoff to work. tmobile had Unlicensed Mobile Access (uma) that worked about 80% of the time on my nokia 6086 back in 2005 or so. Wasn’t perfect but call quality was as good as GSM. Couldn’t send texts tho via wifi either.

  19. Best rating would be ZERO stars.

    Don’t believe for a minute that this company is “beta” testing anything. Beta is used clearly as an excuse to take money and not perform or fix problems.

    I am part of the small group that was what was called at the time “wave A”. The company marketed, as they do now, a low cost plan for “unlimited” calls and data with the understanding that using wi-fi was to be used as much as possible. Great plan that we all believed in enough to buy the only phone that Republic offered, an LG Optimus. We all waited for our phones and once they had arrived the problems began.

    What kind of problems?

    If you buy a communication device you expect to be able to communicate with it. Problem was, and still remains, that it is not in any way a reliable communication device. It is not the problem of the Sprint network that the Republic system relies on, but rather a failure of the software that drives the phone and Republic equipment. We were told to be patient and that the issues would be resolved. We pay out $19 and tax and believe.

    At some point early in 2012, Republic told me via email that they know there are issues and are looking at possible replacement devices for customers with problems. They ask that you keep that confidential and that they are working on the problem. OK, they are going to take care of us, wow, that is great.

    Next we get the marketing hype of this great “upgrade” we can take advantage of. Mind you that the so called upgrade is not an upgrade because the phone we originally purchased is being decommissioned and that we can get a single band phone sent to us for free or “upgrade” to the dual band phone (which had the same radio capability as our original purchase). The single band device has a much smaller area of operation due to the limited connectivity of the device. People that were having issues with a dual band device were expected to pay them an additional $149 to gain the same capability as the original.

    At this point I started doing research as to exactly what the problem was with the original phone. We had been told it was a known issue with regard to “roaming”. In fact it was not a roaming issue at all, but an issue with their programming that would not allow the phone to connect to cell service of any provider including Sprint with no expectation of when that would occur. Nothing has changed.

    The replacement devices they expect you buy has the same issues. They have tried an update to the programming but it has not been entirely successful.

    People that are demanding refunds under the 30 day guarantee are having trouble obtaining refunds. Huge deductions are made if the phone is not returned in absolutely perfect condition.

    Customer service is non-existent for all practical purposes and subscribers must use a public forum that is rife with company shills that constantly try to minimize legitimate issues or questions.

    Republic has now resorted to removing any information that no matter how true is unflattering to them. Republic is having phone giveaways to get new subscribers but refuses to replace their existing customers phones that have never worked at no cost.

    Do not ever expect to be able to use this service as you would any other cell phone provider. It is likely not to work when you need it most.

    There is a huge list of issues beyond not being able to make calls.

    I could go on and on. Dismiss what I say here at your own risk. Do not believe the marketing hype of low cost and “unlimited” usage. Do not EVER rely on a Republic Wireless phone to work in an emergency situation. Ever!

    Believe what I say.

  20. I was part of Wave K, skipped the single band to wait for the dual band. When it was released (and open to the public) I ordered. I have had my phone since 12/20 and have been very happy. I live near Raleigh in a rural area, and work in downtown Raleigh. It has a Gingerbread OS and I have had no problems with calls not connecting, texts being lagged, or bad customer service. True, all of their customer service is via email and from “community” posts, but it has worked great for me.

    A few days in, I saw I didn’t have as great of a signal (cell) from my phone in Raleigh. I contacted RW via email (“ask us” option) and their first response came back within 2 or 3 hours. We went back and forth a few more times within the night, every time a quick response. They gave me an options and boom, full signal. The initial activation didn’t go smoothly and that was my issue, reactivated and it’s all been great.

    An OTA that was released a few days ago, no problem. I suppose it all depends on what expectations an individual has for this start up company. I’m not expecting an iPhone rival, newest OS, or immediate phone customer support. Between the community posts, RW email response, and the phones my wife and I as well as my parents have, I am satisfied.

    I know there have been unsatisfied people, but I believe there are many more that have enjoyed the service and are looking forward to the future. Of course, experimenting is what their 30-day money back has been about, though some people have had delay issues, all from what I’ve seen has been resolved.

    It’s all up to the buyer to make their own informed decision.


  22. First problem is Sprint which I had for years. Even my employer is rethinking the its use of Sprint. In the last two years they have been horrible to say the least. Now I do agree that Republic uses Sprint for 10 dollars a month, which is the right price for this company. Any more and I think you are wasting money. Not sure I would try Republic because of the cost of the cellphone, but who knows anything is possible, I might get one for someone else.

  23. I live in a relatively small resort town in a valley between two major mountain ranges. I have never had a problem with the Sprint connection on Republic. And their new phone, the Moto X is the best phone I’ve ever used. I don’y know anything about what the Republic paranoia is all about – I’ve been using them for 2 years and I’ve never had any sort of invisible or otherwise issue with Republic. Questions are answered very promptly, the bill ($10/mo!) is always the correct bill, and I see no deception in any of my dealings with them. I recommend them to friends and family and everyone’s been pleased. Let me add, I do not work for Republic and have nothing to do with them and am an extremely satisfied customer.

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