Republic Wireless is a new calling service released by bandwidth.com. It'll give you unlimited voice, text, and internet access for $19 a month – without a contract.
OR DOES IT!?
Engadget recently posted a "gotcha" review of Republic Wireless's service: "Republic Wireless is only kinda, sorta unlimited, may ask you to take your business elsewhere."
Basically, Republic Wireless works by jumping onto the Wi-Fi networks you use the most: your home, your office, your Starbucks. When you don't have Wi-Fi nearby, you jump onto Sprint's wireless network.
That's where Engadget objects:
While you're free to plow through as much data and as many minutes as you want over WiFi, there are "fair usage" limitations on your cellular footprint. Specifically, if you cross a threshold of 550 minutes, 150 text messages or 300MB of data you may be asked to take your business elsewhere -- not exactly "unlimited" now is it.
Engadget is rushing to a conclusion - a little. Right after republic wireless gives the numbers that engadget quotes, republic wireless explains why it's still calling republic wireless an unlimited plan with regard to those numbers limitations:
"[republic wireless] is in fact an unlimited plan. We’ll never charge you overages, limit your download speeds, or restrict you to calling circles. Hybrid Calling makes it easy to stay within the community’s fair use guidelines."
republic wireless also makes it clear that the numbers above are for 100% cell usage/0% wi-fi usage:
How much cellular usage is too much?
It depends. Even assuming 0% wifi usage, for example, you could consume 550 minutes, send 150 texts, and download 300 megabytes of data without crossing the community’s fair use threshold.
That's fairly straight-forward. But if you really want to know what a VoIP provider will charge you to use their service, you should check their terms and conditions.
Every phone service provider out there offers terms of service that restrict the amount of unlimited calling you have available (if you know a provider that doesn't limit unlimited calling in some way, please post about it in the comments). If you check out republic wireless's fair use policy, it's pretty clear what republic wireless wants:
"We have established a target Cellular Usage Index of 200 and we want all our community members to achieve a WiFi Offload Percentage of 60% or more."
Basically, they want you to use Wi-Fi 60% of the time.
It would be cool if republic wireless released how they calculate their Cellular Usage Index; it's understandable that they haven't yet – republic wireless isn't even offering people service yet. They're still in a limited beta and should be sending out phones next friday.
Here's the table from their fair use document that explains what they'll do to you if you get that magic number over 200:
Telecom definitions of unlimited are usually not the same as standard English definitions of unlimited.
That being said, the fact that republic wireless says it's not going to charge you for overages means that this is an unlimited plan.
OR IS IT? *LIGHTNING FLASH*
If you're ever concerned about how a telecom company defines unlimited, the best place to look is their legal documents.
republic wireless's are some of the most pleasant terms and conditions documents that I've ever read (stop laughing). They've got witty comments in every document that take the legalese edge off.
They do have this zinger on page 3 of their Terms of Service:
REPUBLIC WIRELESS RESERVES THE RIGHT TO IMMEDIATELY TERMINATE SERVICE AND, IN ADDITION TO ANY AND ALL OTHER APPLICABLE CHARGES UNDER THESE TERMS OF SERVICE, CHARGE A MINIMUM INAPPROPRIATE USE FEE OF $500 AND/OR CHARGE $0.05 PER MINUTE FOR ALL CALLS MADE DURING SUCH PERIODS OF PROHIBITED USE, WHICHEVER IS HIGHER, CHARGE $0.04 PER SMS FOR ALL SMS’ MADE DURING SUCH PERIODS OF PROHIBITED USE, AND CHARGE $0.09 PER MB OF DATA CONTENT FOR USAGE DURING SUCH PERIODS OF PROHIBITED USE, AS WELL AS ALL APPLICABLE AMOUNTS DUE PURSUANT TO THESE TERMS OF SERVICE AND THE SERVICE PLAN. (WE DO NOT REALLY WANT TO CHARGE YOU THESE FEES AND DO NOT EXPECT THAT YOU WILL DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES US THINK ABOUT IT. PLEASE BEHAVE.)
If you read any telecommunications terms of service, you'll see zingers like this one.
Additionally, this paragraph refers to republic wireless's acceptable use policy (different than the fair use policy detailed from which I got that nifty chart), which says things like "don't post spam on forums, don't make phone calls that are four hours long, don't post viruses." So, unless you're doing that, you won't be charged these rates or $500.
Another zinger is on page 6 of the terms of service:
If You need support after the Activation Date, You may send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Unlike other communications companies, Republic Wireless actually will respond to You promptly, but You will be charged a support fee of $10.00.
It's nice to know that they'll automatically respond to your service request but not nice to know that they'll ding you a Hamilton.
They won't kick in this fee until they've got the service working (so, support is free until after the beta).
Republic Wireless doesn't charge a termination fee or anything like that, which is really cool. They also only charge you $20 a month for service, which is pretty cool, too. It is a bummer that you have to purchase a $200 phone to activate the service but, well, you can't get everything for free.
It'll be interesting to see what republic wireless will do once they release their service to the public. In the meantime, I'm sure people will continue to jump to conclusions.