You Have a Strange Definition of “Unlimited,” Republic Wireless

By  |  Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm

A stealthy startup named Republic Wireless has launched, based on a concept that’s enough to grab anyone’s attention, at least momentarily: unlimited voice, data, and texting for $19 a month. The company says it’s going to make that possible by routing as much stuff as possible over Wi-Fi networks, and utilizing Sprint’s cellular network where necessary.

There are several catches. For one thing, Republic will only support one phone at first: LG’s Android-based Optimus, running Republic’s custom software. (The first-month fee of $199 gets you the Optimus.) For another, the service won’t offer international calling for now. Republic cheerfully concedes these points.

But there’s another gotcha which the company’s site tapdances around: It claims it’s offering unlimited service, but also says that it’s possible to use the service in a manner that isn’t “reasonable” and which violates a “fair use threshold.”

In one place on its site, Republic seems to say that the $19 gets you unlimited everything over both Wi-Fi and Sprint:

Do I need to buy minutes from Sprint or anyone else?
No. We’re the first-ever wireless provider to bundle Wi-Fi calling with access to cellular whenever you need it. Your republic wireless membership includes unlimited calling, texting and data over Wi-Fi and Sprint’s cellular network.

But then it introduces the concept of a Cellular Usage Index that it expects you to monitor:

The best way to know how you’re doing is by checking out your Cellular Usage Index (CUI). If it’s too high, we’ll let you know and give you tips to bring it down. You have plenty of time. But meanwhile, you still pay a flat fee of $19/month no matter what.


Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, week or month. Kicking the cell habit, however, isn’t for everyone. Membership here is a privilege. So, over time, if you don’t bring your CUI back into a reasonable range, we’ll help you find a more suitable, traditional cellular carrier.

Okay, so if I use too much Sprint, Republic may apparently ask me to leave. But the company apparently isn’t ready to define what “too much” is:

How much cellular usage is too much?
It depends. Even assuming 0% wifi usage, for example, you could consume 550 minutes, send 150 texts, and download 300 megabytes of data without crossing the community’s fair use threshold. Everyone’s usage patterns will be different, but we’re confident you’ll be amazed at how little cellular you actually use when you have a phone that makes it easy to leverage the power of your Wi-Fi networks.

All right, now I understand. We may not know what “too much” is, but we do know that there is such a thing as using excessive Sprint cellular. Right?

So this isn’t really an unlimited plan?
It is in fact an unlimited plan. We’ll never charge you overages, limit your download speeds, or restrict you to calling circles. Hybrid Calling makes it easy to stay within the community’s fair use guidelines.

It’s unlimited. Except if you exceed the limits. And yet Republic says that it doesn’t cap your service:

What am I buying?
Freedom from calling plans, overages, caps, tiers and termination fees. Members of the republic wireless community get an Android-powered smartphone and unlimited use of it for calls, texts and data. Your phone comes with built-in Hybrid Calling technology that leverages the Web whenever Wi-Fi is available, and uses cellular as a fallback when needed.

Republic Wireless, your service sounds interesting. It could be a good fit for plenty of people. But why introduce yourself to the world by playing word games that might leave prospective customers skeptical about the whole idea? You can claim to offer unlimited service. Or you can place limits on some types of usage and fire members who exceed them. But you can’t do both. Or at least you shouldn’t.

Just what is so disagreeable about being up-front and telling us that you offer unlimited voice, data, and texting over Wi-Fi and supplementary, limited service over cellular? Why not tell us what you offer rather than repeatedly claiming to deliver something which you clearly don’t intend to provide?


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26 Comments For This Post

  1. Jason Says:

    It doesn't sound as awesome when pitching the idea to the consumer.

  2. bgdg1968 Says:

    every mvno that offers "unlimited" has a abusive use clause and they will kick you off immediately

  3. Dana Rock Says:

    So glad to hear that I am not the only one who thinks this!

  4. N8nNC Says:

    I don't think it is strange. There are no limits enforced on monthly usage within the plan. However, if you exceed fair usage over multiple months, they'll cut you from the plan. I imagine all providers serve "at their pleasure" i.e. they can terminate at any time for any reason. Republic's plan is enlightened compared to the rest.

  5. jltnol Says:

    This could really catch on. My ATT service is nothing short of dismal. Give the option, I'd rather use WiFi as opposed to ATT's 3G network, but the only way to do this is for me to buy an AtT macrocell… one for the house, one for the office would cover probable 75% of my needs.

    In the end…and trust me on this… IN THE END, we will all be on WiFi. Data is data. If it's possible now to hand a call off from one cell tower to the next, I can't think of a reason why it can't be done over a WiFi network too. And once that happens…. it'll be WiFi all the time… and that will be a much better thing as I won't have to depend on horrible tower service, when land based WiFi is available.

  6. decafjava Says:

    But isn't wifi, at least now, very limited in it's coverage? I mean how far does an average wifi transmitter operate? Just in your average Starbucks for now. Once we get more powerful wifi perhaps-but wouldn't they need to be as large as cell towers anyway?

  7. Mike Says:

    WiFi range is dependent on the strength of the broadcasting unit, which I believe is currently N+ dual band. However, generally people will be in an area with WiFi, whether a restaurant, cafe, fast food, airports, hotels, or retail outlet, a lot of them are offering WiFi now and when your on the go your on Sprint. I'm always surprised to see stores now offering free wireless.

  8. The_Heraclitus Says:

    This is why one needs to READ contracts before signing…

  9. Pat Says:

    Republic's explanation seemed clear to me: unlimited use over Wi-Fi, over Sprint you are limited to 300MB data, 150 texts, and 550 minutes talk. The only thing that is confusing is your convoluted interpretion of this.

  10. Techesq Says:

    BTW, I've been booted from Sprint in the past due to "excessive roaming" on my "unlimited" plan — no warning — nothing. My old residence did not have coverage good with sprint, and I was often roaming on VZW's network. Instead of building out their network, they boot users. All carriers sell you unlimited plans, but cap or boot the heavy users for whom the plans are most attractive. But don't worry, I'm sure they give refunds to folks who barely use their unlimited plans…

  11. Mich Says:

    Agreed. After reading through their website, I found nothing that led ME to believe that the service was unlimited on a cellular network. They clearly state what the cellular usage limits are. I think it is only your interpretation and lack of including those lines in your article that would confuse anyone.

  12. kzell Says:

    I think that if you think of republic as a cellular service that's just cheaper than your regular wireless unlimited options you have the wrong idea. That seems to be the misguided perspective of this article.

    Republic bases its model on the idea that most persons use their phones primarily within physical areas (home, office, certain public places) that they have Wi-Fi access to… I think the figure I've seen them use is that we spend 60% of our time within our own Wi-Fi access. If you're the type that doesn't do wireless at home and rarely spends time in a wireless office, I don't think this phone is right for you, and I think the company is perfectly OK with telling you that. For the rest of us, it's totally unlimited… they've even said that their figures of 550 mins/150 texts/300mb can be blown right through as long as your Wi-Fi percentage is similarly and fairly in line. Put in the Wi-Fi time, get truly unlimited access outside of your Wi-Fi network, too.

    So I'm still buying "unlimited" as a selling point, but I think it's best to see this plan more as a wireless co-op than a wireless service.

  13. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    I'm going to start a business where I sell people unlimited money for only $100 per month*.

    * maximum monthly payout is $5

  14. liz Says:

    you all sound so intelligent, after reading your comments, could someone please explain to me and my husband, we are elderley and only use our phone to call and talk to people and occasionally a text from a grandchild. would this be a good plan for us. we live in apartments in orlando, fl thank you so much for someones help

  15. t3chd0g Says:

    If you have Wi-Fi Internet service in your apartment and make and receive most of your calls and texts within your apartment then this might be a good plan for you. It certainly would bear looking into.

    However, I would check whether the phone can be re-purposed to be a Sprint phone (since it connects to the Sprint cellular network) in case things don't work out with Republic. While the $19 per month seems good, you wouldn't want to find yourself with a $199 useless phone if after a month of service you are unhappy.

  16. JohnFen Says:

    Yet again, we have a demonstration that there’s no such thing as “unlimited” when it comes to mobile plans. Republic Wireless’ plan is not, in any sense, unlimited. They may be nicer than most, but they’re not unlimited.

    With a real “unlimited” plan, there is, by definition, no such thing as “abusive” use that you get penalized for.

    I’d really love it if all companies stopped using the word “unlimited” except when their service is, in fact, unlimited. Which nobody’s is.

  17. AtownCS Says:

    I like the post…but anyone who reads the site knows this. Not new. I dont think they tapdance, I think they are trying to do what they can but know people will abuse it when not on wifi. There has to be a clause somewhere, and really, their 'fair use threshold' that isn't even met w/ the specs above…thats pretty dang good to me if you're supposed to be using it on wifi the bulk of the time.

    Contrary to what is being said…it does sound awesome. D

    o you really think they could turn someone loose w/ unlimited minutes on a network they dont own and pay for the use of? No. They can however put some kind of effort into giving you as much as possible. When did you see Sprint, Att or Verizon do that? It's progress folks.

    As a new business model I find it not surprising they have to see how people really use the service and try to adjust accordingly with 'fair use' or 'best practices' so to speak.

  18. Harry McCracken Says:

    It could be cool! I just don’t understand why they claim it’s unlimited. Why not also claim that it’s free and made out of 14K gold? That would be equally honest.


  19. Mike Says:

    Ha, Harry, you should know there is no such thing as truly unlimited. Everything has a limit, even if you didn't have limits from Republic and only used WIFI, you could potentially be rejected from your ISP if you cross their limitation threshold (did you know they have one?). The concept of unlimited in marketing generally means its a large number which they don't think the average customer will ever reach. Try writing a script that sends 1k emails with random 10 MB attachments to your unlimited email every minute and see how long that lasts. Or upload GBs of random data to an unlimited web hosting company and see how far that goes. In the end, they will all shut you down for abuse.

  20. kurkosdr Says:

    Indeed, it would be a good idea to use WiFi for calling and texting too instead just surfing, and hence reduce the need to subscribe to plans with lots of texts and and voice, but don‘t expect any real carriers to support it. Some carriers like AT&T and Vodafone initially rejected even the idea of WiFi or Bluetooth file transfer (OBEX). Their branded phones had those features disabled at software level. They literally wanted anything you do with the phone to pass through their network.

  21. the Goat Says:

    So basically they are offering me $19/month for unlimited access to my own Wi-Fi network? I already get that for $0/month.

  22. Mike Says:

    Until you leave your wireless network and go somewhere. Then your $0 gets you no where. Also, there aren't many VOIP providers that connect to land lines who will do it for nothing (Google as an exception). Also that cost covers guaranteeing your quality of conversation when bandwidth congestion could be a problem (something else that costs them money).

  23. Bruce Wagner Says:

    Republic Wireless is using the exact same language and terminology as all the big carriers have been using for years — except they’re being more lesr, more explicite, and more fair. All the big companies will sneekily just cap you, throttle you, or drop you as a customer… with no warning at all… no advance guidelines provided ever!

    Why aren’t you critical of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc…. for ths same thing… only worse.

    At least Republic is putting it out there, front and center, anf being very clesr and honest about it. It IS unlimitted. You WILL be using wifi the majority of the time. You’ll have no issues…. unless you try to abuse the system by using 0% wifi and 10,000 voice minutes a month all on cellular. I’d call that abusing the sysyem because they’ve made it explicitely clear that they expect users to average at least 60% of thier usage via wifi.

    According to Republic, if you use 60% or more of your usage over wifi, on average, your usage will be literally unlimited.

    Personally, I would use wifi 95% of the time.

    Thier plan is brilliant and innovative and I predict all the big providers will eventually copy this idea.

  24. John Says:

    You are not using your phone on your wi-fi network however; I currently have an outdated cell phone with no data and no texting and pay $50/month and around $80/month for 3 phone lines.. I currently use my IPod touch for my data and texting , but I can only do so in wifi areas. If I can combine both of these into one cell phone for $19/month and get unlimited data and texting combined, who cares if 70% of the time it is over wifi networks….. I am still saving money and ALWAYS have data and texting available…. My only question is: Why is Republic Wireless not taking on new customers right now?

  25. Mike Says:

    You have to have the equipment to handle large traffic loads, which costs a lot of money and they want to ensure that they have tested their product well. Once they feel confident that they can handle the user base interested in their product and provide a quality product at the same time, they will open it up to new users. Personally, I keep hoping that day is soon – I find myself checking their website often in addition to their Twitter feeds and Facebook notices.

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