Image: Haley Hamblin/Mashable

Got a smartphone? Then you must also have a wireless plan, and if you live in the U.S., chances are it’s with one of the big four — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.

However, there are a bunch of other carriers you may have seen around, carriers with names like Cricket, Jolt, metroPCS, and Virgin. These are MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators, and they exist by leasing spectrum from the major carriers. They’re also often a better deal, thanks to selectively targeting demographics and relying heavily on Wi-Fi to support the network.

One of those MVNOs is Republic Wireless. Founded in 2010, it made a name for itself by putting Wi-Fi calling on the map. Thanks to a Wi-Fi-centered strategy, Republic was able to offer incredibly cheap deals, which had the potential to cut big money off a wireless bill — a Mashable editor actually saved over $150 every month by switching. The big catch: The number of phones that actually worked on Republic was very limited. Notably, it didn’t — and still doesn’t — offer the iPhone.

After quietly expanding the number of phones that are compatible with its network, Republic Wireless is making noise again. It’s just announced two new hardware products that will debut in early 2018: a phone with no screen that looks more like a panic button, and its own smart speaker.

On this week’s MashTalk, Republic Wireless co-founder and CEO Chris Chuang explained who the products are for: families. The screenless phone, called Relay, functions as both a kid tracker and a way to communicate directly with them. The single button directly calls the parent, and it’s equipped with GPS so the parent can check the kid’s location anytime. The device also provides access to Google Assistant, so the kid can ask questions and get answers without bothering mom or dad (and yes there are parental controls for what information the Assistant can surface).

The smart speaker is called Anywhere HQ, and it’s also equipped with Google Assistant. It looks like any other wireless speaker, but if you pick it up off its (heavy) charging cradle and look at the bottom you’ll see all the buttons for a cordless phone. The big difference is that it’s a phone that works with your smartphone’s phone number, and it also works over the 4G LTE network — so you can take it anywhere.

If this all sounds great to you, but you’re still not psyched to jump to a carrier without the iPhone, Chuang has some good news for you: On the podcast he reveals Republic Wireless will offer an iPhone in 2018. He just didn’t say which one.

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