It’s safe to say that VoIP has been a disruptive force on traditional telecom. It took longer than some thought, but VoIP has fundamentally changed the economics of voice service and basically made the legacy TDM network unsustainable for the long term. Bandwidth.com, a North Carolina based IP CLEC is riding this VoIP wave, and they hope to do to the wireless industry what VoIP did to the wireline industry – disrupt it.
Their new disruptive force is Republic Wireless, which is set to launch on November 8th. As TechCrunch and GigaOm have both reported, Republic Wireless will rely on VoIP for wireless voice to potentially cut a traditional wireless service bill in half. Republic will use their own form of unlicensed mobile access (UMA), which in effect allows for voice calling via Wi-Fi using VoIP. With Republic, customers can seamlessly roam between UMA calling and traditional wireless calling, through a MVNO relationship Republic has with Sprint, and potentially other wireless carriers.
While in reach of Wi-Fi, your Republic handset will utilize VoIP calling over the wireless local area network. The service also allows SMS service over Wi-Fi. Outside of Wi-Fi, the handset will revert to Sprint’s traditional wireless network. Republic hopes their customers won’t know the difference. Republic’s research says the average consumer is within reach of a Wi-Fi network 60% of the time. The service does require you to purchase a specialized Republic handset which uses Google’s Android OS.
With this approach, Republic will reportedly offer an unlimited voice and text wireless plan for $19/month. It’s a little unclear how mobile broadband works into this equation. I suspect the Wi-Fi authentication process could be a bit of a hassle as well – obtaining those pesky Wi-Fi passwords can be a bit taxing at times.
Should Republic see some success, it could open the door to other non-traditional wireless carriers. For example, many wireline broadband companies are deploying mesh type Wi-Fi networks to cover much of their markets. Could this be their model for a wireless service?