Ina Fried

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Republic Wireless Adds a Higher-End Android Phone to Its Cut-Rate Cellular Service

Republic Wireless, one of several start-ups aiming to change the game when it comes to monthly cellphone costs, is adding a higher-end phone to its lineup.

The carrier, which offers $19 a month service for talk, text and Web, plans to announce later on Monday that it will carry the Motorola Defy XT. It will be the first U.S. carrier to offer the device.

Republic aims to offer the low price by shifting a significant amount of its overall traffic onto Wi-Fi networks, using capacity on Sprint’s network only as a backup when no Wi-Fi is available. The carrier had initially planned to limit how much cellular data its users could consume, but quickly changed its terms to say that unlimited service would be truly that.

With the new phone, which will sell for $249, Republic said it will be able to start letting in more of the hundreds of thousands of people waiting for it to expand its beta testing. The Defy is a rugged phone that is both water- and dust-resistant. Republic’s version of the phone will include native support for hybrid calling that defaults to a trusted Wi-Fi network whenever one is available.

“With this, we signal our intent to scale the business, and the overall sustainability of the model, which is admittedly radical,” the company told AllThingsD. “It is go time. Our ambition has only grown based on the reception so far.”

Initially Republic had been signing up customers for a single Android model, the older LG Optimus V. Republic said the new phone is more capable. and said it will allow current customers to upgrade to the Defy for $149.

Republic is not alone in seeking to offer a different set of economics than traditional carriers. FreedomPop, backed by Skype’s Niklas Zennstrom, aims to give away basic data service and make money through other, as yet unspecified services. The company has already announced a sled that offers 4G data for the iPhone.

The latest such company, Solavei, aims to pay customers for recruiting other customers, suggesting that people can actually make money from their cellphone company if they recruit enough friends.

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