The Evolution of Republic


"Let’s build a mobile phone service that uses WiFi to save millions of people billions of dollars. And, let’s treat these millions of people as members, not customers, with the fairness and transparency we’ve always craved as consumers ourselves.” – Republic Wireless’ vision in 2011

Hi, I’m Chris Chuang, and I’m co-founder and COO of Republic Wireless. Many of you do not know me, as my role has been mostly behind-the-scenes during this four and half year journey since we launched Republic Nov 19, 2011 (I’m the comically excited guy from the dancing gif email that went out last month; please don’t judge me on my rhythm, or lack thereof). We thought this post would be best coming from me, given the historic perspective I can offer dating back to Day 1. Specifically, I’m here to personally attest to three truths from Republic’s history:

  1. From Day 1, our vision (per the above) has been to save millions of people billions of dollars with our unique WiFi-first mobile service.
  2. From Day 1, we’ve listened to our members and their #1 request has been an increased selection of compatible phones (clearly folks weren’t checking us in 2011 for our two year old LG Optimus devices). Over the years, you’ve consistently and passionately told us you want more devices, better devices, better pricing and ways to pay for devices, faster device launches, faster device software updates, and the ability to bring your own device to us (or bring it away from us to another carrier).
  3. From Day 1, we’ve believed the best way to serve millions of people is to serve one person well and then repeat that millions of times. With this principle in mind, we’ve always known the key to fulfilling our vision and serving each of you well was to find a way to deliver on your #1 request and offer you the devices and associated experience (faster updates, etc.) you want & deserve.

It’s because of these three truths that my teammates and I are so incredibly excited to share that we are adding seven (yes, SEVEN!) of the latest smartphones from four of the top five Android manufacturers to our portfolio (you can either buy them from us, aided by device financing if helpful, or you can bring your own new or used version of these seven devices as well). Furthermore, a second of the four national cellular carriers has agreed to join the Republic WiFi first party, and as a result these new devices will be available on our new GSM cellular network partner, who boasts the nation’s fastest 4G LTE network. Finally, we’ve come up with a new approach for our technology that will allow us to offer more devices sooner and get software updates deployed quicker. Hopefully, all of this device news makes it clear we’ve been listening closely to all your feedback over the years and you’re as excited as we are (now you know why I was dancing in the email!).

However, I’m sure you may also naturally be wondering, why now? Why didn’t you do all (or any) of this before? Are there any limitations to this good news? Those are great and relatively complicated questions. Let me first try and unpack the “why now” question, which will then help you understand why there are also a few limitations. This is lengthy, but, per our original vision, we’d like to offer you full transparency into this device evolution and our thinking and decisions along the way.

Let’s start from the beginning, and answer why our initial phone portfolio was limited to just one phone manufacturer (and at times, just one phone). Early on, we debated whether we should just build an app that could be available across most iPhone and Android devices, just like like Skype and other Over-the-Top (OTT) apps. Instead, we made a very deliberate choice that a native experience was more important (i.e. – no separate apps, configurations, settings changes, or user names/ identities needed). With a native experience, we could also manage updates on the backend so the caller didn’t have to worry about maintenance. Importantly, the native experience also enabled us to leverage traditional cell networks where needed for seamlessly blending cell and WiFi. Simply said, our vision for the user experience was, “just push the Android phone button and the service just works like on any of the Big 4 carriers, with your regular phone number (not a separate identity). From 2011 through 2015, there was only one way to achieve this vision - through custom modification of the Android ROM. There were some challenges with this approach, as it meant a limited device portfolio and it slowed down our software updates. However, we felt that the tradeoff was worth it for the gains in user experience and savings we could deliver.

Fast forward to 2016. Thanks to a massive amount of work, including some innovative breakthroughs by our Republic engineering team, new Android M capabilities, and collaborative cellular carrier partnerships, **we are now officially out of the ROM and are onto a new technical architecture we call RW 3.0. **** **

So what does this new RW 3.0 world mean for you? Well, on RW 3.0, you can take an off-the-shelf unlocked device (from Republic’s tested and approved list, for example, the Samsung S6), pop in our Republic SIM card, download our Republic app, and receive the same great Republic experience in just a few minutes that used to require us to do many months of deep ROM integration work in tight partnership with the device manufacturer and cellular carrier partner. Because we no longer need to do this deep integration and certification work with the device manufacturer and cellular carrier, we can now:

  • add more device manufacturers beyond just Moto
  • launch new phones at the same time as everyone else
  • deploy operating system updates much faster
  • perform updates to our service and apps as fast as we want (via Google Play)
  • lighten our supply chain inventory requirements
  • increase the places our members can buy our services (think Amazon and other places where unlocked devices are sold)
  • enable members to take their devices with them to other carriers if they are leaving Republic

Overall, RW 3.0 equates to a much more agile Republic Wireless, better equipped to serve our members and their diverse needs in today’s ever-changing market.

All positives, right? Well, mostly. As you may have already started to see in the summary above, there are a few tradeoffs/limitations that were necessary to deliver this big advance in devices and networks on RW 3.0. Specifically:

  • Android™ 6.0 M only
    • RW 3.0 is built on and only works with Android M currently. We will only be able to sell Android M phones (and future Android releases down the road like N, O, etc.), and we won’t be able to upgrade our Moto G (3rd Gen.) devices to Android M as they are tied to our previous RW 2.0 architecture and we have no clean way to migrate them over. To put it in plain terms: Motorola is working on upgrading the Moto G (3rd Gen.) phones to Android M now. We could do what we’ve always historically done - abide by often lengthy 3rd party certification timeframes and focus our engineering efforts on upgrading that one phone, the Moto G (3rd Gen.). Or, we could take the necessary steps to focus on RW 3.0 with these same resources and advance Republic to its next evolution. This was not an easy decision for us, but we felt the right decision was to focus on RW 3.0 as it would benefit more people given the breadth of devices and service it enables. If you recently purchased (within the last 30 days) a Moto G (3rd Gen.) and were really looking forward to getting Android M, you can of course return it and we’ll be glad to help find another solution that works for you.
  • GSM carrier partner only (to start)
    • Our new devices require a unique collaboration with our cellular carrier partner, and thus far only our GSM partner has been able to complete this work (we’re targeting to get this done with Sprint as well before the end of 2016 so that we can make these new devices available to members who prefer the Sprint network for their cellular coverage needs).
  • No more Data Saver tools
    • Because we are now out of the ROM, we don’t control the devices as deeply anymore, and as a result we are technically unable to replicate our Data Saver tools.

So there it all is, the news you’ve been patiently waiting for these past few months, in full transparency. We greatly value our members and the equally transparent feedback you give us about what matters to you about our service. I hope the above provides a good explanation for why we’re now able to offer this major improvement in our device offerings and experience, including some of the limitations and complex decisions this evolution requires for us. We have great conviction the few tradeoffs required for this transition are well worth the gain, and hope you and millions of future Republic members to come will agree as well. This is the next evolution of Republic Wireless and it has all of us here in Raleigh dancing with excitement (although, apparently I’m the only one who has the “privilege” of becoming a dancing gif for our members to enjoy).

Thanks for joining us on this journey…staying with us during the ups and downs…patiently waiting for us while we earnestly work to improve all aspects of the Republic experience…and sharing this transformative and exciting moment with us now. We’re in this together.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.

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