[RING!] Hybrid Phone Service Innovations
Hybrid cars run on electricity and switch to gas power only when needed. In similar fashion, hybrid mobile phones operate on a WiFi signal, and switch to the cellular network only when WiFi is not available. This approach can save you a chunk of change on your mobile phone bill, so read on to learn more, and where to get a hybrid calling plan…
WiFi + Cellular = Hybrid Phone
It’s been a couple of years since I first discussed hybrid cell/WiFi phone services. At that time, the leader in this embryonic market was Republic Wireless and the major carriers were not in the game; they seemed to be hoping that hybrids would just go away. Things have changed rapidly, as usual, so let’s take a look at what’s new in hybrid services.
The big carriers are still dragging their feet, running up trial balloons that are duly reported by the trade press but not actually offering hybrid service. Verizon, AT&T, et. al., are understandably reluctant to sell a low-cost alternative to their pricey cellular voice and data plans. But they aren’t above letting smaller players “re-brand” their services, if it’s profitable.
Republic Wireless has used Sprint exclusively for cell service since Republic’s inception over three years ago. But in January, 2016, Republic announced plans to offer a second carrier, so far unnamed. The smart money is betting on T-mobile, which offers WiFi calling on selected phones and has always been more open to working with innovators like Republic. Whoever the new carrier is, it will give Republic customers a choice between Sprint’s CDMA network and the more widely used GSM technology. Verizon uses CDMA, so it’s out of the running as Republic’s new carrier.
Comcast is reportedly in talks with Verizon to offer a cell/WiFi hybrid mobile service. There can’t be very many prospective customers for a phone service run by the two most hated companies in the USA, can there? But they’re going to try it, apparently. Three years ago, the cable industry sold nationwide spectrum licenses to Verizon for $3.6 billion and secured the rights to resell its wireless services. Now those cable companies, starting with Comcast, are looking to exercise those rights. Look for more Verizon-based hybrid services from Time-Warner Cable, Cox Communications, et. al.
The timing of cable’s entry into hybrid phone service may be partly due to Google’s Project Fi. I said in April, 2015, when Project Fi debuted, “This is BIG!” It certainly seems to have sunk a big spur into the slow horses of the cable and cellular companies. But I don’t discount the competitive pressure exerted by the small, scrappy innovators who have pioneered hybrid phone service.
Slashing Your Mobile Phone Bill With Hybrid Plans
Republic Wireless still leads the pack in hybrid calling and money-saving deals. The company claims that its customers’ average monthly bill is only $13.51; I saw one testimonial that mentioned a $33 phone bill for a family of three! Part of the savings comes in the form of cash rebates to your next month’s bill for any unused data allowance; that’s better than rolling over bytes you may never use!
Republic sells a limited number of Motorola phones because each phone is modified to use Republic’s proprietary WiFi/cell circuitry. That secret sauce enables seamless hand-offs from WiFi to cellular network, depending on which offers the better call quality at a given moment. As a result, Republic customers get the lowest cost possible and the best call quality available.
In December 2014, I discussed FreedomPop and TextNow Wireless in my article Will Hybrid Phone Service Save You Money? Both of those companies are still around, and have their own spin on hybrid mobile phone service. Some of the details in that article have changed, but if you're currently a Sprint customer looking for hybrid service that lets you bring your own phone, both FreedomPop and TextNow have a "bring your own device" option.
One more option is the oddly-named Google Hangouts app, which enables WiFi calling on both Android and iPhone smartphones. (On Android, you'll need both the Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer app. On iPhone, both functions are rolled into the Hangouts app.) Hangouts will use your WiFi connection to dial out. If no WiFi is available, your 3G/4G cellular data will be used to call. There's no automatic switching between WiFi and cellular networks.
The sticking point for any hybrid phone service is the availability of free WiFi in your unique work-lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be an unsecured WiFi network - in fact, I strongly advise against using an open network that requires no password! A hybrid phone can store your work, home, and other regularly used WiFi network profiles, automatically logging you on when you’re in range of one. Given the time that we spend at home and at work, most of your phone calls can and should go over WiFi without any trouble.
Are you using some form of hybrid mobile calling? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Apr 2016
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