Republic Wireless takes Wi-Fi virtual with Devicescape deal
Date: July 13, 2012

By Kevin Fitchard, GigaOM

When Republic Wireless launched last November it promised to deliver reams of data, voice, and SMS to its customers using a hybrid cellular-Wi-Fi network model. As a mobile virtual network operator it buys wholesale minutes from Sprint, but to keep its costs low it directs as much voice and data as possible to Wi-Fi. To support that kind of business model, though, Republic needed access to a lot of Wi-Fi nodes, and now we know the source.

Republic has been working in with virtual hotspot provider Devicescape for nearly a year. It is officially announcing the deal Friday, but their relationship goes back to September when Republic started loading Devicescape’s consumer app into its pre-launch Android smartphones, Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser confirmed.

Devicescape calls its network virtual because it doesn’t actually own or manage any of the hotspots it connects to. Instead it relies on its freely available smartphone and PC software to crowdsource information on more than hundred million open access points globally. Devicescape then curates that data, selecting only the speediest, and most reliable nodes, which it then offers up to consumers and its carrier customers as a virtual network.

Currently Devicescape has more 8.6 million access points in its network. Luckily for Republic, the vast majority, 7.8 million, are in the U.S. where its crowdsourcing pool is concentrated. That gives Republic quite a lot of Wi-Fi to work with. In comparison, AT&T, the most aggressive carrier in the U.S. when it comes to Wi-Fi, has only 30,000 hotspots.

After experimenting with the croudsourced consumer app at launch, Devicescape made its carrier-grade client available to Devicescape on a trial basis early this year, shortly after Republic started offering true unlimited data plans. Now Republic has decided to buy the whole enchilada. Republic will gain access to Devicescape’s analytics and be able to manage the virtual network directly. For instance, Fraser said, Republic wants to prioritize high-performance access points that can support its VoIP calling software.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for Republic, though, will be in mobile data offload. Fraser said that in areas where it has a high density of nodes it can shunt about half of all smartphone traffic off of cellular and onto Wi-Fi. Fraser wouldn’t go into details about its rates, but considering the actual access is free they have to be a lot lower than Sprint’s.

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