Republic Wireless was offering Wi-Fi calling long before Google made it cool with Project Fi. As one of the many low-cost carriers pledging to save you money, Republic Wireless looks to pull off that task by routing most of your calls and data through a series of Wi-Fi hotspots. The goal is to give you a better experience, especially when you inevitably end up with no cellular signal inside the caverns of a building.
But does Republic Wireless deliver on that promise? Here's what you need to know about the carrier, especially after Republic recently tweaked the cost of its data plans.
What network does Republic Wireless Use?
Republic Wireless says it's "Wi-Fi-first" because it's often more reliable and cost-effective (read: no charges for you) to rely heavily on Wi-Fi than on cellular networks. When Wi-Fi isn't available, though, Republic hitches a ride on Sprint's network.
In 2016, Republic Wireless added another network partner, and while Republic was mum at the time about which carrier that was, some of the hints — "the nation's fastest-growing 4G LTE network" — pointed squarely at T-Mobile. That's good news, as T-Mobile finished just behind Verizon in our LTE network testing.
No iPhones are on the list of Republic's approved phones, so you'll have to be content with an Android smartphone.
You will have to set up your phone to join Wi-Fi networks (other than the public Wi-Fi networks that your phone would join automatically), but Republic is betting you'll find the effort is worth it, especially because using Wi-Fi helps keep data costs down, as we'll explain below.
What phones can you use with Republic Wireless?
Republic Wireless plans have the advantage of being very straightforward.
Some of the more prominent choices include the Galaxy S8, Moto X4 and Moto G5 Plus, with prices in line with what you'd pay elsewhere. Republic does let you pay for your phone in monthly installments, but there are financing charges so you'll end up paying more than the list price if you go that route. Phone selection changes over time, so be sure to check up on the latest devices if you're thinking of jumping on a plan.
You're not restricted to buying your phone from Republic. The carrier also offers SIM cards if you've got your own phone. You can check your phone's eligibility by heading to the Republic Wireless site or by downloading the Republic Wireless app from the Google Play store.
What are the best Republic Wireless plans?
Republic Wireless plans have the advantage of being very straightforward, especially now that the carrier has adjusted what you pay for data. Costs used to increase by different increments as you jumped to a bigger data plan, but now Republic has simplified things charging $5 for each gigabyte of data you use. Google takes a similar approach with Project Fi, though it charges $10 per gigabyte.
All Republic plans feature unlimited talk and texting, so you don't have to figure out how much you call and message people as you would with other discount carriers, such as Consumer Cellular. Instead, $15 a month covers the cost of your talk and text.
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As for data, just tack on $5 every month for each gigabyte you use. A Republic customers who keeps data usage down to 1GB of LTE data would pay just $20 a month, once talk and text are included. (Note that these rates don't include taxes.) A 3GB plan — which is more than enough data for most users — would run you $30 a month. Our top-rated discount carrier, MetroPCS, gives you 2GB of LTE data for $30 a month (though Metro rolls taxes and regulatory fees into that rate). Both Republic and MetroPCS charge the same for 5GB of data: $40 a month.
The biggest plan you can get through Republic is a 15GB plan for $90 per month. But, at that price, you'd be better off with a lower-cost unlimited plan through one of the major carriers.
Republic's app will ping you when you get close to running low on data. You can either add more or change your plan.
What special features does Republic Wireless offer?
Republic Wireless offers a feature called Adaptive Coverage, which uses a technology called Bonded Calling that blends both Wi-Fi and mobile networks to deliver the best call quality. According to Republic Wireless, Bonded Calling "senses the quality of your phone's connectivity over Wi-Fi and uses available cellular data as backup to fill in any gaps in your conversation."
The goal is to reduce the number of dropped calls, particularly if you're floating between Wi-Fi and cellular coverage. It's quite the engineering challenge, but it's one that can give you a lower cost. This strategy has also been employed by Project Fi and Comcast's Xfinity Mobile.
You can also use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot without any additional fee. The data you use comes out of your monthly allotment. Anyone on a Clear Choice or Republic Refund Plan can use this feature, as long as they're using a device with Android 5.0 or higher.
What do customers say about Republic Wireless?
The most extensive feedback comes from Yelp, which shows an average rating of 3.5 stars out of 5 through 70 customer reviews. Most positive reviews noted the cost savings and found the customer service to be responsive. Many reviewers were pleased with how they were paying substantially less money.
However, there was some criticism of the service, particularly regarding the ability to hang on to calls and the lack of more comprehensive family plans. Consider checking coverage if you're thinking about going with Republic Wireless.
The company also got praise for being very responsive through its website and email system, which allows customers to send in questions for support and get answers.
Republic Wireless deserves credit for innovating with a concept that would later be popularized by Google with its Project Fi service. If you're a student who lives on a Wi-Fi-blanketed campus or you want to fork over less cash to the big four wireless carriers, then Republic Wireless might be a solid option. The carrier's straightforward approach to data pricing is also appealing.
The main drawback of casting your lot with Republic is the carrier's limited phone selection. And user reviews are mixed regarding the efficacy of the blended calling capabilities. Still, if you spend a lot of time around Wi-Fi, Republic Wireless looks like an attractive choice.
Image credit: Republic Wireless