It looks like Republic Wireless — the upstart cellular service that uses Wi-Fi and falls back to Sprint when necessary — was onto something when it launched back in 2011.
Rumors have popped up in recent days that Google is prepping to launch a wireless MVNO that uses both Sprint and T-Mobile airwaves in the coming months, and WSJ now reports that it'll use Wi-Fi, too. Presumably, phones that use Google's service will choose Wi-Fi as a default since it's far cheaper per kilobyte than cellular, but Sprint and T-Mobile would be available as a backup when a hotspot isn't available. Of course, this isn't the first time Mountain View has been tied up in wireless rumors; WSJ notes that the service has been delayed internally, and it's entirely possible it'll be delayed again (or shelved entirely).
Turns out Republic Wireless was onto something
Meanwhile, the Journal also reports that Cablevision is launching a Wi-Fi-based phone service next month, Freewheel, which will run $9.95 for the cable company's existing customers and $29.95 a month for everyone else. (Republic Wireless' Wi-Fi-only plan, for comparison, is $5 per month.) It's starting in New York, but will eventually be available nationwide. Naturally, it'll include access to Cablevision's Optimum Wi-Fi hotspots. The only phone available at launch, though, will be the low-end Moto G — not necessarily an attractive option for bleeding-edge types who are trying to escape traditional cell services.
For companies without access to cellular spectrum — which is basically everyone outside a small collective of longtime wireless operators — Wi-Fi service is becoming far more practical thanks to the proliferation of hotspot networks, some of which are powered in part by customers' own homes. With decent service, a cellular fallback, and prices considerably below what the big four nationals can offer directly, Google could have a winner on its hands.