[RING!] Hybrid Phone Service Innovations

Category: Telephony

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.

Hybrid mobile phone service

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...

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Most recent comments on "[RING!] Hybrid Phone Service Innovations"

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

I've used Republic phones for several years now, having switched from Verizon. I've very few criticisms of their system. It has functioned as they describe, has given me great service for about $13/month, even when I'm traveling (I get better coverage than Verizon gave me), and they respond very quickly to any question or concern that I ask them. I couldn't be happier with a cell phone service!

Posted by:

John Silberman
28 Apr 2016

I use to use my Google number when traveling out of country. Then Google stopped all third party apps from utilizing Google Voice (GV), forcing the bloat heavy Hangouts as the primary option. Then Google started limiting to what countries GV can be used in for free. So my last trip to Mexico, I downloaded Pinger which provides you a free number, area code of choice, with free SMS, MMS, and 60 minutes of out going phone calls. You can watch a few videos or pay some ridiculously low price for additional minutes. I never needed more than 60 minutes as you can always receive free phone calls with Pinger. With the vast availability of wifi, I basically had a free cell phone during my last stay in Mexico. That was my hybird.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

Have Google Project Fi for 8 months: Works GREAT! Support team is very responsive and helpful if Qs. Texting easy. Phone connection sharp and clear either thru WiFi or cell (Sprint or TMobile). Use data primarily when WiFi connected. Average cost per month = less than $22.00 per month! Thanks for writing about the Google Project Fi. I recommend it strongly. Many great features.

Posted by:

George G
28 Apr 2016

I have google fi for just about a year bill averages $26.00,Service and phone Nexus 6 works great.My wife uses Republic she averages $13.00 also works fine .I use google fi as it allows intenational calling as Republic doesn't,as we do a lot of traveling.I reccommend either very strongly.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

I jumped on the Republic Wireless bandwagon last April, so over a year's worth of payments under my belt. My average has been a little over $18 for 13 months, more than what has been reported by Republic and what the above user stated.

I'm not a heavy user; in fact I usually get a rebate off my bill for data not used during the month. I'm on the lowest data plan of .5Gb of data per month for $7.50. If I should go over that, then it's another $7.50 and what I don't use of this, it will be refunded on my next bill. What a way to do business! One can adjust one's plan based on one's data use. So if you think you'll need 2Gb per month, then you can make that your plan at $30/mo plus the $10 month base charge. And change it mid-month or whenever. I haven't needed to do that, so I don't know if it's difficult or not, but it doesn't appear to be since I can do it in the Republic App on my phone.

Now Republic just announced that instead of WiFi calls having dead space and/or poor reception at times, the cell service will automatically fill in if the WiFi reception is not good, something called "Bonded Calling." I don't know if it works since it was just announced April 21st. But if it does, it's just another reason to go with Republic. Best thing I have done since dropping Verizon several years ago for VoIP Ooma Service! Another great service!

Posted by:

Charles Heineke
28 Apr 2016

I've been using Republic Wireless as my cell carrier for a year now. It's been a good experience. With their rebate, I now have a monthly bill of about $13. I get the $10 plan, for unlimited talk, text, and data on wi-fi and then add on a $7 plan for 500 MB of data, for when I'm away from wi-fi. Usually I don't use much of the cellular data since I'm normally around wi-fi most of the time, so I get most of my $7 back on the next bill, reducing it. I am careful to use a VPN with my wi-fi wireless, however, to ensure security of my connection. For those wanting to try Republic, they has just announced financing for their new phones. That will make getting started with Republic easier for those who don't have the cash to outright purchase a new Republic phone.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

I've gotten more or less used to switching my iPhone settings from WiFi to data when I go out and back to WiFi when I go for example to a restaurant that has it. Also, I sometimes have to use data at home because my cable modem slows down during busy times. If both are on, I think WiFi takes priority, since videos freeze during busy hours.

It wouldn't take Apple much effort to put in a toggle setting that changes both at once, and I think the automatic hybrid function could also be implemented in hardware or firmware.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
28 Apr 2016

Those people on some VOIP home phones have had a form of hybrid phones for years. For example, Ooma home phone service includes a free smartphone app (Android and iOS) that lets me make and receive unlimited WiFi phone calls for free from anywhere in the world. Once you buy the hardware, Ooma only charges for the taxes (about $4 per month). Combining that with a Tracfone smartphone service at less than $8 per month makes for a very inexpensive all-around phone service.

Posted by:

Robert A.
28 Apr 2016

I don't know if this makes any difference to Time-Warner Cable users, but following its failed merger attempt with Comcast, last year, the company just announce it will be merging with Charter Cable. This means that probably within a year or so, the Time-Warner name, and probably some services will disappear. If Charter doesn't currently offer hybrid cell service, then it's possible the T-W service may be extended to Charter customers.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

Anyone who'd like to test TextNow Wireless WITHOUT the wireless part can download the TextNow app for free. You'll get a free phone number and can use the app on any wi-fi enabled device. (I've been using it on a phone and my desktop PC for a while now.) If you ever decide to pay for the wireless service, you can use the same phone number when you signup. One thing about buying a phone from TextNow -- doesn't matter if you buy a new one or a refurbished unit, you get a 1-year warranty, and if you want to cancel within 30-days, they'll refund your money. The two big negatives are that the cellular service uses the Sprint network, and because all calls and texts go through the TextNow app, even if you're on cellular, you actually use your data. TN allows "unlimited" calls and texts even if you go over your data allowance, but it gets throttled to 2G speeds once you use the high speed data you've paid for.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2016

Great article, Bob! You started me on this path a while back. I am a super-pleased Google Fi customer. Their basic $20/month plus data is especially KILLER for me as I travel a lot. (LOTS of customer calls and texts! And kids and grandkids!) On the road while on calls, I find transitioning between Sprint and T-Mobile is seamless. The wi-fi calling works really well though I did have a "bump" ONCE when I literally ran to my car after starting a call inside. The bumpy transfer from wifi to cellular happened quickly and was over with no more problems. My data is less than 0.1 gigs per month (even with Waze on every day) so my bill is less than $21 plus taxes. The kicker? I called the 800 number and an ENGLISH SPEAKING HUMAN BEING ANSWERED THE PHONE ON THE SECOND RING!!! AND... that person was instantly able to help me! NO automated phone system with its "press blah, blah" ad nauseum. NO passing me on to someone else "who can help you." Sorry but CoxCable set the bar pretty low for me so I am ecstatic with G-Fi's customer service. Then - to top it off - I ended up getting the Nexus 5x from G-Fi on sale for $249 and financed by them for 24 months at $10.38 per month. After all those positives, it's obvious G-Fi works well for me but it's not even close for my wife. She averages 4 to 5 gigs of data per month. She's been with Boost Mobile for a while on their $45 including 5 Gigs of data plan. Her bill is always $47.25 per month and she/we are WELL pleased with Sprint's service. If she switched to G-Fi, her bill would be around $70 per month.

Posted by:

Allan Thiele
29 Apr 2016

I have been with Republic for two and-a-half years. Total monthly bill fortwo phones is usually $24 and change. Service is excellent.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2016

I'm surprised you didn't mention Google FI: https://fi.google.com/about/?u=0. Thoughts on how this service might change the playing field?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm surprised you missed the paragraph where I did mention Fi, and how it is already changing the playing field. :-)

Posted by:

02 May 2016

I went with Republic shortly after reading about it here - the last time you wrote about them.

Good service; requires some familiarization(?) and configuration. Had trouble getting my AT&T mobile number to transfer and finally gave up on that.

Just rec'd a statement and one month's service was $13.08 WiFi and Cellular signals switch seamlessly in my experience.

Thanks Bob

Posted by:

03 May 2016

I have had Republic almost since the beginning and have been very satisfied with the service and costs. Have found support forums and customer service very responsive, though seldom needed. Using a Moto X phone which I really like, but am anticipating the newer phones when they come out, but the hybrid wifi-cell model has worked perfectly for me and can't beat the costs as others have also mentioned.

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