Friday, November 11, 2011

Republic Wireless: truly revolutionary or simply a case of disruptive marketing? unveiled a new service called Republic Wireless last week. It launched in beta a few days ago, and it’s got the blogs buzzing with its “hybrid” Wi-Fi/cellular technology and its eye-catching USD 19 a month price point with no contract (after spending USD 200 to buy a special phone).  The company is positioning itself as a revolutionary alternative to traditional telecom.

The service uses a custom-built standard which hands off between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, Dally said. is a nationwide, facilities-based CLEC with 24 million numbers issued. "We're deep into VoIP as a company and we're leveraging our expertise to do it," Dally said.
The service will automatically search for a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to, and that is deliberate Dally said since the company is trying to build a community of people who prefer Wi-Fi. "The cellular component of this is always going to be important," he said. "Today we think for Wi-Fi as an offload. We think the Wi-Fi network is primary."

TechRepublic is excited about it, while others, like TechnoBuffalo, are more skeptical.

There seem to be three main questions.

First, the company needs as much activity as possible on Wi-Fi, not the cellular network.  But can that really be controlled? The company has clearly prepared for this, with limits on cellular use and the threat of kicking people off the service for going over those limits.

Our take? The limits are bad PR, and the company may well have to back down from them. And few players have been able to build cellular networks with anything but cellular networks.  This gets to the historic strength of the telecom industry – standardization, mass market technology and cost-effective radio coverage. is directly and openly challenging this. It will be fascinating to see if they’re right, but we think that while traditional telecom value may be less
relevant in a digital internet-based age, in this case they still matter … a lot. 

Second, how much are you really on free Wi-Fi? Perhaps more than you think, but, aside from home, it seems unlikely too many people will go through the perpetual hassle of either paying for, or even signing in, to a Wi-Fi service.

This gets to the real question.  Who is going to churn to sign up for this? Is this a niche market or a “revolutionary” mass market? 

GigaOm wonders if the Republic Wireless model could take over the market leaving traditional service to only the heaviest users.  But we agree with Andy Abramson at VoIP Watch. This might work for teens and students.  And maybe people with lower incomes.  Maybe. But it will not attract the average user, even a savvy one.

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