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posted by n1 on Monday February 16 2015, @09:45PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the new-old-tech dept.

Brian Chen writes in the NYT that two companies, Republic Wireless and FreedomPop, that reduce cellphone costs by relying on strategically placed Wi-Fi routers are at the forefront of a tantalizing communications concept that has proved hard to produce on a big scale, The concept championed by the two little companies in their nationwide services is surprisingly simple. They offer services that rely primarily on Wi-Fi networks, and in areas without Wi-Fi, customers can pull a signal from regular cell towers. “Wi-Fi first is a massive disrupter to the current cost structure of the industry,” says Stephen Stokols. “That’s going to be a big shock to the carriers.” For $5 a month, customers of Republic Wireless can make calls or connect to the Internet solely over Wi-Fi. For $10 a month, they can use both Wi-Fi and a cellular connection from Sprint in Republic’s most popular option. Republic Wireless’s parent company, Bandwidth.com, a telecommunications provider with about 400 employees, developed a technique to move calls seamlessly between different Wi-Fi networks and cell towers. “You can’t pretend these companies are major players by any stretch. But I think their real importance is proof of concept,” says Craig Moffett. “They demonstrate just how disruptive a Wi-Fi-first operator can be, and just how much cost they can take out.”

In major cities, the Wi-Fi-first network makes sense. People use smartphones frequently while sitting around their offices and apartments, and Wi-Fi can handle the job just fine. But once people start moving around, it is not so simple. The benefit of a cell service is that your phone can switch among multiple towers while you are on the go which wi-fi is not designed to handle. Google may be experimenting with a hybrid approach similar to the small companies’. A person briefed on Google’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were private, says the company wants to make use of the fiber network it has installed in various cities to create an enormous network of Wi-Fi connections that phones could use to place calls and use apps over the Internet. In areas out of reach, Google’s network would switch over to cell towers leased by T-Mobile USA and Sprint. Still many wonder if even the biggest companies could make a Wi-Fi-based phone network work. “There are just so many places where Wi-Fi doesn’t reach," says Jan Dawson "and the quality of Wi-Fi that you can find is often subpar."

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by ikanreed on Monday February 16 2015, @09:50PM

    by ikanreed (3164) on Monday February 16 2015, @09:50PM (#145843) Journal

    Republic's biggest problem right now is the narrow choices of hardware available for their plans.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Monday February 16 2015, @09:58PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday February 16 2015, @09:58PM (#145846)

      And yet old timers who were in the original beta like me, recoil with horror at the memory of the original Optimooooose and the Defy, so shipping something with usable specs is a huge win compared to the bad old days when you'd have like 30 megs free.

      When I got the droid after suffering with 128M or whatever downrated machines, I had no idea how to live with 16 gigs of storage... It was like that first hard drive card in the 80s, oh man with 20 megs online all the time I'll never delete anything again. And just like my first hard drive, it took about a month to fill completely, maybe less. But it is a lot nicer.

    • (Score: 2) by nitehawk214 on Tuesday February 17 2015, @09:02PM

      by nitehawk214 (1304) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @09:02PM (#146298)

      For me, not being able to bring your own phone is a dealbreaker for someone that is not convinced they would be able to use this service.

      It's neat concept and worth keeping an eye on, though. I hope it works out and manages to shake up the wireless provider world.

      --
      "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
  • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Monday February 16 2015, @10:22PM

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Monday February 16 2015, @10:22PM (#145858) Journal
    Verizon yawns again? [soylentnews.org]
    If so, I think it may be something pathologic, like the sleeping sickness [wikipedia.org] or something.
    --
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16 2015, @10:24PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16 2015, @10:24PM (#145861)

    What matters most is some sort of unified texting along with voicemail-over-ip. That'll get you halfway there and for people under 25 its probably more like 90% of the way there. Set up voice-mail so it spools down to my phone instead of streaming and then you can use it even with a crappy wifi connection since playback will not be network-dependent.

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Tuesday February 17 2015, @07:34AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 17 2015, @07:34AM (#146029) Journal

      That's a pretty good idea, No struggling with typing, and no half-assed voice to text disasters. Just take the voice and send it when a connection is available. Store and forward voice.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 2) by hemocyanin on Tuesday February 17 2015, @08:18AM

        by hemocyanin (186) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @08:18AM (#146037) Journal

        Kind of like visual voicemail?

        You want voicemail to come back? My outgoing message highly discourages people from leaving me voicemail. This is true even though my phone downloads my voicemails and lets me listen to them in any order. The very fact that a person called is enough -- I often get voicemail from someone, and then call them back without ever listening to the VM and just make them repeat whatever they said (remember, my outgoing message tells people that I would really prefer they not leave me a VM). At my office, I intentionally have our phone system set up so that I don't get voicemail on my set at all -- my assistant gets my voicemail so I don't have to, this even though it arrives by email with callerID info which eliminates the tedious serial nature of old-time voicemail. God -- I hate voicemail. Even what you suggest here would be awful (for me) -- it's so much faster to just look at a text than it is grab the phone, press play on a voice-text, put phone to ear if in public (could be a private message, or, do you really want to be that asshole in the elevator playing texts on speakerphone?), listen to someone babble and fail to get to the point, make a recording in response (plus all the re-records because of whatever), and upload it in about 400x the time it takes to send text (could be important if you find yourself with a 2g connection often).

        Many people might love it, and maybe I'm getting too deep into "get off my lawn" territory, but jeez, for me this would be one hateful feature. For the whippersnappers out there, it might be fine having never experienced the worst aspects of voicemail and not having built up the unbridled hatred for it I have.

        • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday February 18 2015, @04:39AM

          by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 18 2015, @04:39AM (#146429) Journal

          No, not at all like voicemail.

          Voice mail results from an un-answered call. People don't always want to call. It ties up two people. You have to wait for the ringing, the hello message, the beep.

          Voice messaging would be like text messaging. You say Honey pick up some Milk, frozen peas, baking power biscuits, and two chicken breasts on the way home.
          it gets downloaded to Honey's phone and is there when Honey next checks messages. Nobody has to type anything, nobody has to correct the voice reco. And it doesn't blurt it out in public till you press the message. You would probably have to put it to your ear to hear it, just like voicemail.

          --
          No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
          • (Score: 2) by hemocyanin on Wednesday February 18 2015, @05:30AM

            by hemocyanin (186) on Wednesday February 18 2015, @05:30AM (#146437) Journal

            No -- the only difference between this and VM is that there is no risk of getting into a conversation. But in every other aspect, it shares the annoying characteristics. Someone will love it though, just not me.

        • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Wednesday February 18 2015, @01:52PM

          by urza9814 (3954) on Wednesday February 18 2015, @01:52PM (#146507) Journal

          You want voicemail to come back? My outgoing message highly discourages people from leaving me voicemail. This is true even though my phone downloads my voicemails and lets me listen to them in any order. The very fact that a person called is enough -- I often get voicemail from someone, and then call them back without ever listening to the VM and just make them repeat whatever they said (remember, my outgoing message tells people that I would really prefer they not leave me a VM).

          I'm the opposite. I never answer my phone if someone calls, and I don't return missed calls. If it's important, they can leave a voicemail, I'll check it and see what they want, and I'll call back if I need to. I work on my schedule, not theirs, and they don't get to interrupt anything I'm doing at any time with a phone call. And if it's not important enough for them to take a couple seconds to let me know why they called, then it's not important enough for me to *care* why they called.

          Generally I prefer to do everything over text formats, preferably email. But if people really insist on communicating with me via voice, they can talk to Google and I'll listen later. Or if it's a simple enough message I'll just read the auto transcript (it's rarely correct enough for complicated stuff, but it keeps me from having to actually listen to five seconds of silence or "call your mother").

          Also I just hate not having a record of what was said. I don't want to you call me, I don't want you to come talk to me at my desk, because an hour later I'm going to be sitting here thinking 'wait, *what* exactly did they tell me?' Give me an email, or an IM, or a text, or a voicemail...give me *something* I can reference later; I've got a memory like a sieve! And give me something that includes your contact information because there's a 50% chance I've forgotten your name too.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Ken_g6 on Monday February 16 2015, @10:44PM

    by Ken_g6 (3706) on Monday February 16 2015, @10:44PM (#145870)

    Particularly if your first phone does mobile hotspot. It's probably against somebody's terms of service, but I doubt they'd complain if you don't use the mobile hotspot for calling too much.

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:24AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:24AM (#145956) Journal

      Even if you do, the data consumption of a typical SIP (VOIP) connection is very small. Most sip clients configure for an 8meg codec, which really doesn't use much.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:07AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:07AM (#145951)

    My local cable company Cablevision (aka Optimum Online) just started offering WiFi calling via their Freewheel [freewheel.com] service. I haven't tried it.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by hemocyanin on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:17AM

    by hemocyanin (186) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:17AM (#145953) Journal

    I use T-Mobile's wifi calling and texting all the time because my house is in area without consistent cell coverage. My phone seamlessly switches back and forth between wi-fi calling and celluar calling depending on what is available (I have it set to prefer wi-fi).

    So two things -- I think this makes more sense for people _not_ in cities where cell connections can be really spotty. I don't think I'd even bother if I lived in town because it makes no difference.

    Finally, I'm not exactly clear why this is considered so groundbreaking -- it's just VOIP on a handheld computer (aka, "smartphone").

  • (Score: 1) by cedarhillbilly on Tuesday February 17 2015, @11:34AM

    by cedarhillbilly (4503) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @11:34AM (#146067)

    out here in BFE Pa, I've been with Republic for over a year. Very satisfied.

  • (Score: 2) by Alfred on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:59PM

    by Alfred (4006) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @02:59PM (#146133) Journal

    I like it. It works. Wifi to cell handoffs work seamlessly. I recommend it.

    My usage profile is cell/text/MP3, some games. There was one glitch in the dialing app but that was fixed in the last update.

    Pros:
    Cheap. Was gonna buy an iTouch but their phone is cheaper.
    Cheap. I do the $10 plan which is like 25% of a normal plan.
    No Data Highway Robbery. If I go on a trip where I really need data I can switch it to a data plan for a few days.

    Cons:
    You can never get in if you are trying to call into a radio show to win something. #FirstWorldProblems
    My particular phone does not have a microSD slot, though it has USB OTG.
    Not a con for me but you only get like 3 phones to choose from, can't bring your own.

    Meh:
    Browsing is just as bad as every other android I have used.

    It is funny to see the major carriers trying to catch up. Republic will probably get bought by one of them.