• Wi-Fi-based mobile service expands beyond Sprint and Motorola
  • Carrier to offer unlimited talk, text, 1 gigabyte data for $20

Republic Wireless, one of the first hybrid Wi-Fi and cellular mobile services in the U.S., is adding T-Mobile US Inc. as a network partner and seven new phones to its lineup as the low-cost carrier mounts its biggest challenge yet to larger foes Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

Starting in July, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Republic will sell four Samsung phones including the Galaxy S7, Google’s Nexus phones and Motorola’s Moto X Pure. The devices, when not in Wi-Fi range, will switch to a top U.S. carrier’s network, said David Morken, Republic’s chief executive officer. Under the agreement, Republic can’t say the name of the carrier.

“We can say it is the magenta network,” Morken said. T-Mobile’s insignia is magenta.

Closely-held Republic, a unit of Internet-calling service Bandwidth.com, is one of about 300 mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs that sell wireless service by renting network time from larger carriers. With increases in hotspots and improved reliability of Wi-Fi calling, larger companies have been testing entry into the wireless market. Comcast Corp., which operates one of the largest Wi-Fi networks, invoked an agreement last year to use Verizon’s network for an MVNO. Google enlisted Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile as partners in its Project Fi offering.

Competitive Rates

By using cheap, available Wi-Fi coverage combined with cellular service, the cost to provide service is lower, letting MVNOs offer calling and data plans for less than the price of conventional service. Republic is introducing a 1 gigabyte plan with unlimited talk and texting for $20, and 2 gigabytes for $30. Verizon offers 1 gigabyte for $30, AT&T has a 300 megabyte plan for $20. 

Republic, with fewer than 1 million subscribers, had revenue of $103 million in the past 12 months and its average user pays about $13 a month for service, Morken said. The company recently turned profitable, he said.

Republic charges full price for phones and, bowing to industry trends, is introducing financing that allow monthly payments over time. Customers can also bring unlocked phones from carriers like T-Mobile to use on Republic, Morken said.

Previously, Republic’s offering had been limited to specially-programmed Motorola phones that work only on Sprint’s network. While Republic keeps Sprint and adds new partners, the iPhone is still not part of the picture. Apple Inc. hasn’t permitted Republic to use the devices on its service, Morken said. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.

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