Tech Blog: Republic Wireless May Have A Phone Solution For You

Darren Clark's picture

Republic Wireless Motorola Defy XT phone

If you live in the US and call friends and family in the Caribbean and  also travel to the Caribbean frequently, Republic Wireless may have a phone solution for you. 

Republic Wireless offers a cell phone service in the United States that provides unlimited calling, texting, and internet access, with no service contracts, for just $19 per month. Unlike the larger cell phone companies, the phone is not subsidized over the life of a two year contract so you have to buy a Motorola Defy XT (the only phone that works with the service) upfront for $259.
Republic wireless is a year old start up company, but it is a subsidiary of Bandwidth, a company with low visibility that has been powering many popular voice over the internet protocol services such as Google, Skype, Vonage, and others, with its sprawling internet infrastructure.
The service is no frills but it may be perfect for someone who lives in the US, calls or travel to the Caribbean frequently, wants to save some serious cash and still enjoy the benefits of owning a fairly decent smart phone. 
Other than offering dirt cheap unlimited cell phone service, why would this service appeal to someone living in the US and calling and traveling to the Caribbean? Because the phone is a WiFi phone. With the increasing popularity of WiFi hot spots in the Caribbean, especially in resort areas, you can make free calls from the Caribbean to the US and Canada with the phone wherever you can find free WiFi access to the internet. 
Making calls from the US to the Caribbean with the phone is not free, however. mainly because of restrictions placed on incoming calls by Caribbean governments. Nonetheless, nowadays there are various ways to make cheap calls from the US to the Caribbean.
The method I recommend is to set up a prepaid Google Voice account and to use the Google voice plan to make international phone calls as you would with a regular phone. With Google voice you have the option of calling online through your computer or through the Motorola Defy XT. 
When you make an international phone call with Google voice, you pay a per-minute rate, similar to long distance calling from a traditional phone carrier. As you use up your Google voice minutes, you buy additional calling minutes through Google Checkout.


Sample of Google Voice Calling Rates from the US to the Caribbean

Country landline cell phone
Barbados 13 cents 20 cents
Dominican Republic 6 cents 11 cents
Haiti 24 cents 25 cents
Jamaica 12 cents 22 cents
St Vincent & Grenadines 17 cents 24 cent
Trinidad & Tobago 10 cents 19 cents

The Motorola DEFY XT smartphone is a WiFi/cellular hybrid that operates primarily on Wi-Fi when you’re near it, and roams onto the Sprint 3G cellular service when WiFi’s not available. If the user roams where neither Wi-Fi nor Sprint is available, they will roam onto the Verizon Wireless network. So you get very reliable coverage wherever you are. Because much of your usage is routed over WiFi for free rather than a paid cellular connection, Republic wireless can offer its services much cheaper than other cell phone companies.

The Defy XT is a pretty decent Android smartphone with a rugged design. Republic Wireless gives you 30 days to try out the device and service. If you are not satisfied then you can return the phone for a full refund. Since there is no service contract, you can also cancel at anytime after 30 days, but you won't get a refund for the phone after this trial period. 
I have been using the Republic  Wireless service and the Motorola Defy XT for a few weeks weeks and want to share my experiences. Calls inside the US and to Canada are covered by the $19 plan. The Defy XT is a middle range Android smart phone. However, by today's standard, that means it is a full-featured smart phone. As such, it is more than up to the task. I think the device and service are a very good value that will appeal to many people.
The phones call quality is quite good. There are some hiccups however as you would expect with a new service. Because the service uses both WiFi and cellular calls, if you are in the midst of a call on WiFi and move away from the WiFi network the call will be dropped. Also, don't expect cuddly customer service. Republic is able to offer cheap service by cutting back on customer service.
In practice when you make a Google voice call to the Caribbean, you dial the number, Google Voice calls back with a notification of the charge. You accept and the call goes through. What about call quality? It is among the best I have experienced. So far I have not experienced any latency. I can't vouch for calling from the Caribbean, because I have not tried that yet, but my hunch is that it should work OK.