VoIP forms core transport for new wireless service

Just about a month ago, Enterprise VoIPplanet reported on the merger and integration of Bandwidth.com’s wholesale division with dash Carrier Services to form inetwork, the largest “aggregate voice and emergency services network in the country,” according to senior vice president and general manager Steve Leonard.

This week, Bandwidth made another big announcement that shed some additional light on the thinking behind inetwork: the launch of republic wireless, a new “hybrid” calling service that promises to be highly disruptive.

The first precedent-setting fact about republic wireless is that, VoIP—accessed via Wi-Fi—is its default transport. For communications when no Wi-Fi connection is available, the system uses Sprint’s nationwide 3G cellular network.

“We’re the nation’s first carrier to step up and do what a lot of consumers—and the markets—have been waiting for for a long time,” general manager Brian Dally told VoIPplanet in an interview. “We’ve taken the cellular network and we’ve integrated it into a phone that does Wi-Fi first. So VoIP is the primary technology and cellular is the backup,” Dally said.

The second precedent-setting fact is that the fledgling carrier is able to offer unlimited voice minutes, unlimited data, and unlimited text messaging for the astounding price of $19 per month—without a contract.

How are they able to make this work? That’s where inetwork comes in.

“Put simply—we own the network already, which gives us a huge advantage to pull this vision off,” Dally explained. “The reason why our prices can be so much lower than everyone else, and the reason why we can go without contracts, is based largely on the fact that we have this advantage.”

To become a subscriber, you sign up on the republic website. The first month will set you back $199, but for that outlay you get the smartphone around which the service is built: an LG Optimus (which sells for around $600 elsewhere) running Android 2.3, loaded with custom software created by Bandwidth.com developers. After that, it’s a flat $19 per month.

The business model is based on the assumption that relatively little use will be made of the 3G cellular side of the service. “The phone will prefer Wi-Fi,” Dally said, “and it should, because it’s cheap and it’s ubiquitous. We all are around it most of the time. It just makes sense. It’s a smart way for a smart phone to operate.”

However, for those instances when Wi-Fi is not available, Sprint’s nationwide 3G network will fill in, “not some old, slow network,” as Dally put it.

Likewise, Dally stressed that this is not a service being offered by “some startup out of the blue. It’s coming from a startup division that’s leveraging many years of heritage of VoIP expertise—whether that’s in our network, the inetwork, which supports innovative companies like Google Voice, Pinger, and Skype or our Phone Booth product that supports tens of thousands of small businesses with hosted PBX. We’ve cultivated very broad and deep expertise in VoIP and we’re leveraging that in republic wireless.”

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