Four years ago my family cellular bill (on Verizon) was around $175. This was for a limited number of minutes (2000, if I remember correctly) and unlimited texting - but no data, and no smart phones. I really wanted a smartphone, but I didn’t really need mobile data. I wanted to be able to do things like browse web sites and check email from places that had wifi, when I didn’t have my laptop with me. Like when sitting at a car dealership while my car was getting inspected, for example. But, Verizon didn’t allow you to get a smartphone, without a mobile data plan – nobody did for that matter. And I refused to go above the $175 I was paying for the family cellular bill.
Then one day I discovered Republic Wireless, and it was a dream come true. Suddenly I could not only get a smartphone, but it included unlimited mobile data, and it was cheaper than anything else out there. At $19/month, I could get 4 lines and cut my Verizon bill by two-thirds. Yes I had to pay for the phones, but Verizon was at that time starting to make you pay for new phones anyway (use them for two years, then you could get a new one for a discount but not free, and only one discounted phone per account, and we had 4 phones). The only issue was, my wife refused to leave Verizon, primarily because she wanted to keep her number (which couldn’t be ported to RW, the first of many little quirks that you have to put up with when using Republic) and she wanted an iPhone, and also because she liked their service. Note that in my neck of the woods, Verizon was, and still is, the only game in town if you wanted high-quality, saturated-coverage cellular service. Any time we’d be on the phone with someone and the call started breaking up, we’d joke that they must be on some carrier other than Verizon.
So anyway, I moved 3 of our 4 lines to Republic. We couldn’t port the numbers but that seemed to not matter to the kids, although it was a big step for me (looking back, it was no big deal). I kept my wife on Verizon at about $70/month, and the three of us on RW at $57/month, for a total of $127 plus the cost of the new (DefyXT) phones. The savings of around $50/month paid for the cost of the phones (then $250 each) in about 15 months. All was well. And, I was a hero, to my kids … because I was able to provide them with smart phones and data, which is what only the “cool” kids in school had at the time. I kept close tabs on the Community and contributed often, even wrote an app called WiFi Pilot which helped extend the battery charge for the Defy. I felt like I was part of this new high-tech forward-looking company that was going to change the world. I overlooked a lot of glitches, a lot of things that just didn’t work right on RW, because they were a “beta” service and I was willing to cut them some slack, as I considered myself to be an “early adopter”.
Fast-forward to today and a few iterations of phones later … My kids are four years older. The world has changed. Now every kid (er, young adult) has a smartphone, not just the “cool” ones. Some have crappy service, and the “cool” ones have Verizon. Not only has my family become accustomed to, and dependent on, having smartphones, but we also want to have data everywhere, not just at the car dealership or the school, but also on the drive between home and those places. And the kids want everything to ‘just work’, the way it does on Verizon.
I’ve gone from being a hero, in my family, to being the jerk who refuses to move us back to a ‘real’ cellular service. Every time a call drops (which happens eventually on every single call between us and our son in college), every time a text gets delayed or a texting app doesn’t work right because it “isn’t supported”, every short code that doesn’t work, every annoying voice-delay that causes people to talk over each other, every call that has an echo that makes it hard to speak because you hear yourself about a second after the words you say … all are my fault. Instead of being on the cutting edge of technology, we are on the back edge, playing catch-up, holding our breath and waiting for the next release of something from Republic that will make the service closer to ‘normal’. We are now the people that our friends joke about, because we have “that goofy cheapo cell phone”.
Recently Republic started offering the 3.0 phones and plans, and my kids of course both got new phones right away. (BYOP phones, which they were at the last minute told that they’d have to wait an extra couple of weeks to activate because we didn’t buy them from Republic … once again, Dad’s fault for trying save a few bucks). We were excited to get on the new GSM carrier, because the coverage map showed my area saturated with LTE data availability. The phones came, then eventually the sims, and the kids jumped on their new phones only to find that the coverage was worse than Sprint, at least in my home town. Actually, for most of the area in a 2-mile radius of my house, there is zero coverage. No roaming, no voice, no data. Again, Dad’s fault, he has to try to be cheap. Meanwhile, as the kids have gotten a bit older, they are using more and more data. My daughter has busted out of the 1 GB plan and is on the 2 GB plan, and is pushing that limit. My son does a little better, but has needed more than 1 GB of data once or twice because of travelling. I use a minimal amount of data, but only because I refuse to use the phone anywhere that doesn’t have wifi. That has a ripple effect, because I refuse to go to restaurants that don’t have wifi, and so on. And everywhere I go, I look for wifi to log onto. I also turn the wifi off when getting back in the car (or in my case, on the motorcycle), to save battery. I actually like doing this kind of thing, because I’m a “geek” as my kids would say. But, my kids don’t like doing it. They don’t want to have to mess with the wifi all the time. They want to use their phones in the car if I’m driving, and with kids, “using the phone” has nothing to do with talking, so what that really means is using data. Meanwhile the Republic bill is about to reach $70/month and is in danger of going higher, and the phones are crazy expensive.
Anyway a Verizon deal caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. 4 lines with 20GB of shared data, for $40/month per line or $160/month total. I started thinking about how, back in the day, I was ok with spending around that much for 2000 minutes, unlimited texting, and no data. I decided to look into moving back to Verizon, because they finally had gotten their pricing back down to that ballpark, but now including data (and a lot of data, at that). I checked it out, and it seemed to me from the fine print, that to get that price, you had to buy new phones and finance them over 2 years. Well but even that was ok, because we could sell our current phones, two of which were almost new, and the third was still worth $200 on swappa. I talked to my family about it, and of course the kids were 110 percent in favor. We were on a fairly long weekend trip and my son started browsing Verizon’s offerings, and he discovered that included with this deal, was a promotion on the Moto Z Play, which ended up being free. That’s right, we had to buy new phones but the monthly cost of the phones was credited back to the account, making them effectively free, and they were Moto Z Plays which are awesome phones. It had became a no-brainer.
We drove home on a Sunday night and at the end of the 8-hour drive, we stopped at the Verizon store and did the deed. My wife remains on her Verizon plan, we all joined it, and we have the 4 lines / $40 per line deal, and we have 3 new Moto Z Plays. The deal was so good we decided to buy an extra phone and line for an older family member and give him the phone for Christmas. (We had been paying for his RW line, and he had been using one of our hand-me-down phones. That phone was getting long in the tooth (and short in the battery) and he was making noises about wanting a new one, which meant he would soon be on the $20 3.0 plan. We could add him to our Verizon plan for the same $20/month, and in the process get an extra 2 GB/month to share, and of course the free Moto Z play.) The 20GB of data “rolls over” for a month, so if you only use part of it you eventually have 20GB “in the bank” in case you have a “bad month” and need 40 GB. And, if you manage to use up all that data, your data drops to 128k bps, so it’s slow but it’s still there, and it doesn’t cost any extra. Oh and the kicker? They casually mentioned that with each new phone “purchased” (in quotes because they are free anyway), we got a $50 Starbucks card. (So $200 in Starbucks cash, which should last my wife at least a couple weeks, LOL). And, you can watch NFL network anywhere without using your data (and NBA too) … neither of which interest me but I thought I’d include them here for completeness. Oh and they also have wifi calling, which works pretty well, although it doesn’t handover as far as I know, and I don’t know if texting also works over wifi.
We are now in the process of porting our numbers out.
My situation is of course not the same as everyon else’s. What makes mine particularly suited to this Verizon deal is the fact that I have a family of four (actually 5) and my wife never moved from Verizon. Having to pay for one Verizon line, means that even though the four RW lines are cheaper (but getting more and more expensive lately due to 3.0 and increased data usage), our total bill was approaching the magic $160 level. Now we are at the $160 fixed price, or actually $180 if you include the extra family member (yes there are fees and taxes and what-not) but we have lots of data to use, we have coverage galore, and all the short codes and goofy little things work. And I am once again, a hero … or at least, no longer a jerk.
I love the Republic Community and I wish everyone well. I think the company has great potential, but only if they remain committed to engineering innovation. They must fix all the “little” things, and they must support and maintain their product, better than they have been. For example, the biggest innovation that they have come up with (other than the original wifi call offloading) was the Bonded Calling. But that turned into an albatross, as it didn’t actually work, and it made the wifi calling not work right anymore (at my house and at thousands of other places, I’m sure). But they seemed to ignore this for many months, until one day they admitted that they had been finally able to duplicate the problem in-house. Really? This was the one thing still separating Republic from all the other carriers; this was their bread-and-butter technology that was how they distinguished themselves, and they broke it and couldn’t fix it for half a year? Then, six weeks later, I guess they’ve now finally released the fix, but only in one direction. I’m sorry, you have to do better than that. You’ve got to not only fix stuff right away, but you’ve got to also have ongoing engineering, and be working on enhancements and improvements to give people better quality service than all the other MVNO’s out there. You can’t tease people saying you are developing a multi-device experience, and then abandon the subject for a year and a half and counting. If I were single, I’d stay on RW and ignore all the quirks, because the engineer in me would be having fun with the technological aspect and life on the edge. But, I’m not, so I am leaving.
Anyway I’ll check back from time to time and see how it is going. Thanks, Republic, for making me the hero for a little while back then, and for helping me understand that it’s not about just me; sometimes I have to choose based on the needs of the many, rather than the few … or the one.