Save Money With Hybrid Cellular Phone Service

Category: Cloud , Mobile , Networking

How does this sound to you, savvy mobile communications customer? A mobile smartphone that does talk, text, and web over WiFi for only $5/month? Or unlimited talk & text even without WiFi for $10 a month? Or talk, text and data for $25/month? Read on to learn how it's possible...

Republic Wireless: Cellular + WiFi

No, I haven’t been smoking anything; those are the plans offered Republic Wireless. No contract, either, and it’s post-paid, meaning you pay monthly depending on your usage. Republic Wireless phones use a clever hybrid communications concept, which minimizes use of the expensive cellular networks, and maximizes use of free Wifi in your area.

Whenever possible, your calls, text and data are handled by wifi. If there's no wifi signal available, the phone switches over to a cellular network. Because of this, Republic Wireless is very inexpensive when compared to Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile plans.

So what's the catch? Well, for starters, only Republic Wireless phones will work with the service, so you can't bring your own phone. You'll have to purchase a Moto X smartphone from Republic Wireless for $299. That's a no-contract price, so it's actually quite a bargain. You'd otherwise have to pay about $600 for this phone without a contract. Republic also offers the Motorola Defy XT, but they are sold out. You can buy them for under $100 on eBay, but be sure that it's specifically for Republic Wireless or it won't work.
Hybrid Cellular - Republic Wireless

You also need to know that you'll be using Sprint cellular service and you have to set up a WiFi login profile on the phone for every secured WiFi network you plan to use. For most people, that will be one or two network profiles: home and maybe work and/or school.

Wait, you need cellular *and* WiFI service? Yes, because Republic Wireless uses WiFi signals to carry as much traffic as possible via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). It switches your voice calls and text messages to Sprint's cellular network only when Wifi is not available. The company saves a ton of money and those savings are reflected in consumer prices.

There are a few other caveats to the Republic Wireless plans and technology. First, if you use more than 5GB of Sprint data per month for three consecutive months you will be throttled back to torturous 2G speed (about 144 Kbps). Second, a call will seamlessly switch from WiFi to cellular, but you must hang up to switch from using cellular to using WiFi. Third, Sprint is the smallest of the big four U.S. mobile carriers, covering only 230 markets; so Republic may not be ideal for travelers. See Sprint Coverage Map. On the plus side, in most cases you can port your existing number to Republic.

Is It Legal and Secure?

Why yes, it’s legal, it just sounds vaguely underhanded. But if you own the WiFi network or have permission to use it, as evidenced by your possession of the WiFi password, then it’s perfectly legit. It only looks dubious because you didn’t think of it first. And WiFi networks secured with a password will encrypt the traffic that is sent and received. So you needn't worry about calls or texts being intercepted by nefarious hackers.

In residential areas, home WiFi networks are increasingly being secured. I recently counted 25 networks within range of my high-gain USB WiFi adapter and only one was open; I guess people are taking my advice after all! See my related article Avoid These Five WiFi Security Mistakes.

So will Republic Wireless work with an unsecured, open WiFi network? I have not put that question to the test. But what I've read online tells me there is no technical hurdle to doing so. It would be wrong to use another’s WiFi without permission, and even illegal in some places. But many businesses provide unsecured WiFi networks for customers and grant permission to use them. I could not find a clear answer about privacy issues when using a Republic Wireless phone on unsecured WiFi, though.

Some municipalities have free wifi zones. Search for them in the Municipal Wireless Network or with the WiFi Finder.

By the way, eBay is awash in cheap, highly effective 1000mw WiFi adapters. The WiFi adapter in a typical mobile device boasts only 5 to 15mw of Internet-grabbing goodness. These 1000mw adapters (usually under $20) can connect to a router up to one mile away with a clear line of sight! The brand doesn’t matter; they all use the Realtek RA3070 family of chipsets.

Bottom line, Republic Wireless is one way to save money on your mobile phone service, if you have convenient access to Wifi, and you understand the limitations and caveats mentioned above.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Save Money With Hybrid Cellular Phone Service"

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

As long as your advertising low-cost alternatives you should look into Ting. I switched a few months back and my bill averages $35/mo. for voice, text and data. Also post-use billing setup. I've been quite pleased so far.


Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

I wonder how this would work with networks such as most motels, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc that require user to agree to a user agreement before gaining full access? And the permission to connect is typically time limited for a day or less.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

Sounds promising, except. . . this 1000mh "adapter" you mention. Every one I've seen online is a mini-antenna designed to hook up to a computer. Not something you can attach to the phone to be of any practical use.
Unless. . . there are portable 1000mh adapters small enough with appropriate connectors to use with a phone.
Are there any?

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

Great! However it does not work in white,
according to the map. Problem is, I live in white. Grrr. Best regsrds,, john.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

I have been using RW for almost a year now. To answer Greg's question, yes, it works at McD's Starbucks, Applebee's, Panera's, Hilton, Comfort Inn, etc., etc. The first time you have to tell it to connect to the WiFi, the provider's webpage appears asking for your approval, then the little green arch appears and you are connected. The best thing is that the phone "remembers" and the next time you walk into Starbucks it automatically connects to the WiFi. It even picks up networks while I am walking down the street or driving somewhere. I can't wait to try it out in Europe by connecting to the hotel's free WiFi and calling home.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

What do you think of G3 Telecom?

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

A question about the $5 per month WiFi only deal... if you have a WiFi compatible smartphone and an app that enables talk and/or text, why would someone want to pay the $5 per month fee?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I assume you're talking about a WiFi compatible smartphone that currently has no cellular service plan -- one that can connect only with Wifi. In that case, sure, you can do web and email, but you'll need something like Skype for voice calling. Skype is great for calling others who also have Skype, but for all other calls (to landline or mobile numbers) you will need to pay the Skype-to-phone rate of 2.3 cents/minute. Depending on your usage, that could be more or less than $5/month.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

I have used Republic Wireless for over a year now. You must have WiFi at home in order to activate your phone. And service questions are only by computer. There is not a direct phone number for customer service. I made a car trip to Minnesota last June and didn't have any problems with service along the interstate highways. My in-laws live in a small town but had WiFi and the phone worked great. Just a great product.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

Realtek or now MediaTek, the latter having purchased RA Link, who developed the RA307x family of chips? Found lots of RA3072 adaptors, with either the RA Link or MediaTek name, not so many with the Realtek name, and not with that chipset. Most with Realtek chipsets used the 8187L chipset and were limited to 54Mbps speeds.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

"It only looks dubious because you didn’t think of it first."
thanks again for that line, bob. if i remember, sounds good to use it on snarky people..

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

What they are doing is really smart ...Wi-Fi is often the much stronger - and most importantly much more reliable network, especially when compared to cellular ... so why not use Wi-Fi when you can?

I live in multiple locations - one where it has been impossible to get a reliable cellular signal, although we have Wi-Fi and the Republic Wireless Moto X works perfectly on Wi-Fi. Almost positive I am roaming on Verizon's network at this location as Sprint has a roaming agreement with them for certain areas. That's one of then other nice things about Republic - unlike many of the other pre-paid services or MVNOs, at Republic very little that is truly important is buried in the fine print.

I wish these guys luck - we pay over $6000 a year to national cellular carriers for 5 phones. Plan to give Republic a few more months but if all goes well, everyone here is getting a Moto X on their plans.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2013

Bob, I must be missing something. Why would I pay for free wireless access. Most smart phones automatically switch to WIFI when available. We don't have to pay 5 per month for that. Yes you do have to log in if it is protected but you don't have to pay anything and certainly not monthly.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Most smartphones will switch to wifi for DATA (web and email) but not for text or talk. Big difference there.

Posted by:

Shawn Rosvold
12 Dec 2013

Thanks for the piece on Republic. My wife and I switched from Verizon (about $175 a month) to Republic about a year and half ago ($40 a month). We're both very happy with the price and the service. We were able to talk nonstop for no charge to friends and family in the US as long as we were connected to wifi in Europe. The only complaint I have is that data heavy programs and internet browsing do not work well when you're not on a wifi connection, but the phone works fine in the US. In Canada, the cellular phone service is hit and miss. Sometimes, calls go directly to voicemail with the phone ringing, other times the calls don't work at all. But that's a small price to pay for such a small price.

Posted by:

13 Dec 2013

Great article as usual and very useful information for those that can't afford much on a cell phone.

But unless I'm missing something there are numerous honest smaller providers at present that will provide unlimited text and talk for $35 and no contract w/o any hassles.
I have a smart phone and use Metro PCS and pay $40 for unlimited text, talk and limited data on a 4G network . The Text can be multimedia also. The phone will use Wi Fi for data when available saving on my use of the contracted amount. When I exceed this it will place me on 3G.

Also AARP has Consumer Cellular with programs as low as $10 a month with limited usage but very handy for people that have a need for a phone but use it very limited and mostly for talk and few texts.

Posted by:

16 Dec 2013

Excellent review. One of the only I've read (and read a lot of them) that doesn't have a "cult-esqe" quality. it just seems that it's an expensive longer range home phone without Sprint option. Sprint option- not all that great since Consumer Reports just ranked them the worst carrier. T-Mobile does a better job with WiFi. Free with service and it's secondary backup -your in basement no signal jump on the WiFi calling.

@ James - Your Metro PCS $40 plan is 500 MB then throttle- not really unlimited. Don't get me wrong- I'm a WiFi bandit so 500 MB works for me. You can just get a better deal on a similar T-Mobile Plan @ 35orless and the rate goes down during the month with LIVE Plan.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2014

This is a follow-up to my 11 Dec posting.
Took the phone to Amsterdam, set it so only the WiFi, not the cellular would work, and it worked just fine with the hotel's and various restaurant's free WiFi. Became invaluable when email from pet sitter arrived 2 days after leaving home notifying me that someone had tried to break into our house. Was able to call the pet sitter back to arrange repairs, and call the neighbor to let them know what happened and to keep an eye on the house.
Thank you Republic!

Posted by:

13 May 2014

Just checked the Republic Wireless web site. They now offer the Moto G phone in both the 8GB and 16GB versions, as well as the 16GB Moto X. You can also use the "design your own" options for the Moto X if you're willing to pay a little extra. If you can live with 3G, the 16GB Moto G is the way to go - only $179.

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