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A review of Republic Wireless's cellphone service

I’ve been trying out Republic Wireless, a startup that offers very inexpensive wireless service: $19 for unlimited talk, text, and data. In a nutshell: they resell Sprint’s network, and you agree to connect to wifi as much as possible; they use the Internet instead of the cell network when you’re on wifi. I thought for $19/month it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. After several months, my experience has been that it isn’t worth using at all, no matter how cheap it is.

I don’t want to dwell on the problems at great length, but here are some of the issues I’ve had.

  • The phone is junk. It’s a super-low-quality Motorola Defy XT, which is basically hardware and software (Android) from 3 years ago. It has flaky behavior such as turning off the screen when I try to use the keypad during a call, for example, when I try to press the 7 key to delete a message from voicemail. It also does bizarre things like rotating the screen from landscape to portrait repeatedly and unpredictably when I’m in the middle of trying to use it. It’s a really poor experience in every way; my 3-year-old Droid 2 was much better.
  • Sprint’s network is awful. Just awful. Voice quality is terrible. I haven’t been able to actually have a call for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It disconnects or goes into some kind of zombie state where the call still seems to be connected but nobody can hear anything – or only one person’s voice gets through. The phone is literally unusable as a telephone.
  • Connecting to wifi doesn’t work. I connect to wifi, I have a strong signal, and their VOIP software uses the cell network instead. It’s incredibly buggy. VOIP calls are better than over-the-air calls, but not much.
  • Something is wrong with number routing. I’ve gotten calls from people who were dialing completely different numbers (same area code, but different last 7 digits.) When these people apologized and hung up, then tried calling the number they were trying to reach, they’d get me again. This never happened on Verizon.
  • Customer service isn’t merely bad, it’s actually nonexistent. They just use a community forum, and they don’t even answer threads on the forum. See, for example, my thread asking them to make voicemail passwords optional, after they removed passwords from everyone’s voicemail (which is a serious and well-demonstrated privacy/security blunder).
  • Text messages stopped working several weeks ago, with basically no notification except for a relatively hidden post in some area of the community forums. Last I looked, there’s no update on whether they’re even trying to fix this.

I’m sure there is more, but that should be enough for now. The summary is that the phone is almost completely unusable for voice calls, completely unusable for text, and practically unusable for anything I’d like to do that requires data (e.g. typing an email) because of the hardware’s flakiness. It’s little more than a small, poorly behaved Android tablet that I paid $250 for.

My wife and I switched from our previous price-gouging phone network at the same time, and both of us have had all the same issues. So this isn’t “just me.” There’s a sample size of at least 2.

Posted on Fri, Mar 22, 2013. Approximately 600 Words.

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