Republic Wireless: $19 per Month for Voice, Text and Data

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A new carrier called Republic Wireless is enlisting the help of Wi-Fi networks to sell insanely cheap smartphone service.

Republic Wireless offers voice, text and data for $19 per month, with no annual contract. That’s roughly a quarter of the price of coverage plans on AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

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Of course, there’s a catch: Republic Wireless uses a “Hybrid Calling” system that automatically places calls over Wi-Fi when possible. A cellular network is available for backup—Sprint’s network, to be exact—but Republic expects its customers to be on Wi-Fi most of the time. So although Republic Wireless claims to offer “unlimited” voice, text and data, it also reserves the right to kick out bandwidth hogs. Exact limits may vary, but in general users can expect warnings if they exceed 550 minutes, 150 texts or 300 megabytes of cellular data.

Also, Republic Wireless only offers one phone for now, LG’s Optimus, which is a low-end Android 2.3 handset with a 3.2-inch touch screen. It’s included in the $199 start-up fee ($99 if you use the promo code welcome19 by November 27), and is pre-loaded with Republic’s Hybrid Calling system. As The Verge’s Jamie Keene points out, the software-driven system could drain the phone’s battery in a hurry.

Obviously, this isn’t for everyone. If you crave the latest and greatest smartphones, you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you use lots of data on the road—for example, by streaming music in the car on your daily commute—you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you’ve got slow and unreliable home Internet service that can’t handle VoIP services like Skype, this isn’t for you.

But for people who want a basic smartphone and the cheapest service possible, Republic Wireless looks promising. And I like the carrier’s activist bent, likening its service to a hybrid car and its traditional wireless carrier rivals to the oil companies. Republic’s website even refers to the established industry as “Big Cell” at one point. Sure, it’s a bit disingenuous when Republic relies on Sprint for cellular, but who cares about that when you’re sticking it to the man and saving gobs of money?

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