Republic Wireless to launch Moto X, new plans and improved Wi-Fi/cellular technology

Sprint (NYSE:S) MVNO Republic Wireless is christening its first full year of commercial service with the launch--scheduled for sometime this week--of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Moto X, new rate plans and improved Wi-Fi-to-cellular handoff technology.

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Republic's Moto X

Republic's service requires customers to buy an unsubsidized device directly from the company, and it relies on the company's hybrid calling technology, which is built into the phone at the Android operating system level. Republic structures its service to route traffic over Wi-Fi and to only fall back on Sprint's cellular service if no Wi-Fi is available. Republic will sell the Moto X for $299.

Republic launched service last year with the Motorola Defy XT, a device that is quite long in the tooth, along with a $19 a month service plan. And the company's Wi-Fi calling technology previously would start a second call over cellular if a customer dropped out of Wi-Fi range--there was a lag time in that method, and the handoff was extremely bumpy.

Now, the company is refreshing its handset lineup, its rate plans and--perhaps most importantly--its Wi-Fi calling technology

In an interview with FierceWireless, Republic CEO David Morken said "rocky is generous" in describing the company's previous Wi-Fi-to-cellular handoff. "It was painful," he said. To improve that, Morken said Republic recruited engineers from Nuance Communications, IBM and other companies, including former Nortel Networks engineers. The goal was to improve the normalization of codecs between Wi-Fi and cellular.

Morken said that a key player in the effort was Lior Ron, who was formerly product head of Google Local and is now a Motorola corporate vice president of product management. Morken said he is the "product owner" of the Moto X and was instrumental in improving the service, down to the device's firmware level. Now, the handover between Wi-Fi and cellular is seamless, Morken said.

That's because the service is engineered via an "intelligent predictive algorithm" that can determine, based on factors such as location, jitter and packet loss, when a call is starting to drop on Wi-Fi. The service then anchors that call in the cloud and in milliseconds is able to transfer it over to cellular service, according to Morken. Republic leverages Devicescape's curated network of Wi-Fi hotspots for its service.

In addition to improving the underlying technology, Republic is introducing a range of plans to complement its original $19 offering. For $5 per month, customers will be able to have unlimited voice, texting and data, but only via Wi-Fi. For $10 per month, they can get unlimited data on Wi-Fi only and unlimited voice and texting on Wi-Fi and cellular. For $25 per month, customers get unlimited voice, texting and data over Wi-Fi and CDMA cellular connectivity and for $40 per month they get unlimited voice, texting and data over Wi-Fi and LTE cellular connectivity.

Morken said a large number of Republic's current customers exhibit usage patterns that will make the $5 and $10 plans the ideal ones for them, and that customers should not be forced to pay more for a plan they won't take advantage of much. Moreover, twice a month customers can change their plans and Republic will pro-rate the customer's bill for the rest of the month--also a new feature.

"We shouldn't make money off of you," Morken said. "You should contribute what you're using."

Morken said that for now Republic will stick with Motorola as its device partner, though he did not rule out future partnerships. He noted that Republic works closely with Motorola on its devices. "The deep partnership is the right one for the customer," he said, adding that Republic will introduce two more devices in 2014, including a mid-range phone and low-end device, though he declined to provide details.

Other Sprint MVNOs, including Scratch Wireless and TextNow, have adopted Republic's model of being a Wi-Fi-first service that hops on Sprint's network when Wi-Fi is not available. Morken said he has no problem with that. "The water is warm and I would welcome anyone to jump in," he said. He said though that other players have not progressed as far as Republic has in improving Wi-Fi-to-cellular handoffs.

Morken declined to provide the number of customers Republic has or its revenue. However, he said the company, a division Cary, N.C.-based VoIP and bandwidth service provider, is not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. "We built it to last," he said. "This is long term."

For more:
- see this Republic Wireless FAQ

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