Republic Wireless teams up with Devicescape for wider Wi-Fi availability

The Wi-Fi-centric mobile operator will use Devicescape's network of public hotspots

Republic Wireless will give users of its hybrid Wi-Fi and cellular mobile service access to a network of hotspots managed by Devicescape, the companies announced on Friday.

Republic offers unlimited voice and data service starting at US$19 per month, after a first-month charge of $199 that includes a special handset. The key is that it relies heavily on Wi-Fi wherever possible instead of a cellular network.

Devicescape's network might give Republic users a lot more places to use Wi-Fi, saving Republic money and potentially boosting subscribers' speeds. All new handsets from Republic will include software for getting onto hotspots on Devicescape's network, and phones already in the field will get it through a firmware upgrade, said Dave Fraser, CEO of Devicescape.

Both companies are taking new approaches to wireless connectivity using unlicensed spectrum, which can offer a large amount of capacity but is made available in a different way from the frequencies licensed by traditional carriers. Phones from the big carriers have dedicated channels built in, but that access comes at a price because the those bands cost billions of dollars and in some areas are nearly overloaded. Both established carriers and young companies such as Devicescape and Republic want to use unlicensed bands to complement the licensed networks.

Devicescape "curates" a collection of about 8.5 million open, public Wi-Fi hotspots, most of them small and unmanaged, in about 180 countries, Fraser said. The Devicescape software on smartphones, PCs, Macs and other devices not only gives users access to these networks but also monitors the quality and availability of them. All are networks that are available without entering user names or passwords, and most run off access points set up in small businesses, he said.

Devicescape doesn't have formal relationships with most of the entities that offer these networks, Fraser said. It simply builds and maintains a database of the available hotspots and makes that available through its software. The company has an algorithm to weed out wireless LANs that are unintentionally left open rather than deliberately made available to the public, he said.

Republic joins a handful of service providers that are paying Devicescape for access to some or all of the networks in its database. Those customers include hotspot aggregator iPass and second-tier U.S. carrier MetroPCS. In addition, Intel includes Devicescape software in some Intel-based devices.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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