Sprint MVNO Republic expands to GSM carrier, will launch new Moto device by April

LAS VEGAS -- Sprint MVNO Republic Wireless has inked an agreement with a GSM-based wireless carrier and will begin selling a new, high-end Motorola GSM-based device by March or April of this year, a top executive said here on the sidelines of the CES event.

Lon France, SVP of sales and marketing for Republic, said the MVNO will also introduce an improved, "next generation" version of its Wi-Fi calling service in conjunction with the launch of its GSM-based Motorola phone.

France declined to provide too many more details about Republic's planned launch. The three-year-old MVNO has to date offered a handful of Motorola devices on Sprint's network, but soon will start offering service from an unnamed GSM-based carrier that is likely T-Mobile. AT&T and T-Mobile US are the nation's two GSM-based carriers, and T-Mobile is Republic's likely partner because T-Mobile has been more open to MVNOs than AT&T has been.

France said the MVNO's service plans for the new carrier won't be different from its plans for Sprint service.

Interestingly, France also said Republic will launch handset financing plans through a third-party payment vendor by April. For those who have suitable credit scores, such plans will allow them to pay for their phones in monthly installments rather than in one upfront payment. France declined to name the third-party payment vendor Republic is working with for the offering.

Republic counts "hundreds of thousands of customers," France said, but declined to provide a more specific number. Republic, a venture of Bandwidth.com, counts around 150 employees and distributes its phones primarily through its website but also through Amazon and a retailer called Microcenter that operates roughly 32 stores nationwide. France said the company hopes to expand distribution and marketing this year, describing his hope that 2016 will be Republic's "coming out" year.

Republic is one of a growing number of Wi-Fi-first MVNOs; others include Scratch Wireless and Google's Project Fi. Republic's technology -- pre-installed directly into the ROM of its Motorola Android phones -- shifts users' traffic onto Wi-Fi where available, and switches only to Sprint's network when necessary. That approach allows Republic to offer relatively inexpensive service plans. France said almost half of the company's customer base subscribes to Republic's $10-a-month option that supplies unlimited talking and texting. Users buy cellular data in GB increments and -- importantly -- their accounts are credited with any unused data. As a result, Republic's average revenue per user is today around $13.18 per month. France said that pay-back element for unused data is extremely popular among the company's customers.

Republic further lowers its expenses through its relatively unorthodox approach to customer service. Instead of offering live customer service agents that customers can speak to on the phone, as most service companies do, Republic only offers online customer service through email or chat. France said that strategy dramatically reduces Republic's customer service expenses, which he estimated can account for up to 40 percent of some MVNOs' overall financial outlay.

But France said Republic's approach to customer service hasn't affected its ability to retain customers -- he noted Republic scored a top rating for wireless service from Consumer Reports. He added that Republic's churn figures are comparable to those of Verizon.

Further, France said that, through Republic's deal with customer service vendor Directly, Republic customers are paid for helping other Republic customers with their problems as most such issues are posted to the user forum on the company's website.

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