Project Fi: What to Know About Google's Move into Wireless

Josh WolfordTechnology

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As you may have heard, Google's a wireless provider now.

The company unveiled Project Fi on Wednesday – a move that had been hinted at for months. Fi piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile's networks to provide $20 per month unlimited talk and text, with $10 per GB data. Here's what you need to know about Google's offering.

What is Project Fi?

Google has entered the wireless game, but on a limited scale. Even Google acknowledges that Project Fi is, at the very least, an experiment. As Google says, Project Fi is “a program to explore this opportunity by introducing new ideas through a fast and easy wireless experience." It's only available on the Nexus 6.

Project Fi offers unlimited talk and text for $20 per month, an a pay-as-you-go data plan that costs $10 per GB. That means the cheapest Fi plan starts at $30.

Google’s Project Fi will run on Sprint and T-Mobile, and customers will have access to both networks – as well as Wi-Fi calling. What you use to make your calls depends on which method is better for your current location. Project Fi connects you to free, open Wi-Fi networks (read: no password). Google will only allow users to connect to Wi-Fi networks that are part of its network quality database, for quality assurance purposes.

Fi customers will also have access to no-roaming data when traveling in 120+ countries. International calls adhere to these rates.

How does Project Fi's coverage area stack up?

Here's a look at Project Fi's coverage map. You can interact with it here.

Here's a quick look at Verizon's coverage map. You can explore it in detail here.

And here's AT&T's. Take a closer look here.

What's attractive/unattractive about Project Fi?

+ Project Fi is a no contract, no obligation wireless service. Of course, that's not revolutionary but it's important. Google's not going to break new ground by making people sign a contract.

+ The way Google handles data use is probably the most appealing thing about Project Fi. Google will not charge you for unused data – it'll give the cost back to you. The way it does this is to apply it to your next bill.

So let's say you buy 1 GB of data for the month (at $10), and only use 700 MB. That means $3 will be applied to your next bill. And if you go over your allotted data reserves, Google will just add the difference to your next bill.

"Project Fi will first alert you if you're getting close to your data budget. If you go over, you'll still get full-speed data and data is charged at the same $10 per GB rate. For example, if you go over your data budget by 350MB, $3.50 will be added to your next bill."

+ Speaking of data, Google Fi's no-roaming international service is a big plus. Here's how texting/calling works abroad:

If you're traveling to one of the 120+ countries where we have coverage you can call and text to anywhere in the world. Unlimited international texts are included in your plan. If you're using cell coverage, calls cost 20¢ per minute. If you're calling over Wi-Fi, per-minute costs vary based on which country you're calling and you're charged only for outbound calls.

+ Project Fi frees up your phone number to work across all your devices. All you have to do is connect any device that supports Google hangouts to you number. With Project Fi, your phone number has been sent to the cloud.

– Project Fi is only supported on the Nexus 6. There is a special Project Fi SIM card – and that's the only device that has it. Unfortunately, it's the only device that's going to have it for quite some time – at least until the end of the "early access program".

– Battery drain? Google says its software has been designed to not "put any extra strain on your battery by only moving you between networks when absolutely necessary.” But it's yet to be seen how all that jumping around between Wi-Fi and cellular will affect things on the Nexus 6.

– There are no family plans. At least for now, Project Fi seems designed for lone wolves.

– There are no contracts, meaning you'll have to shell out for your Nexus 6 ($649-$699).

How does it stack up, price-wise?

Engadget has a good breakdown on whether or not it's a good deal to switch to Fi. Remember, Fi costs $30 per month for unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of data. Each addition GB or data is another $10.

T-Mobile's most basic plan with unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of high-speed data will run you $50 a month, while the same amount nets you 3GB of data across Sprint and T-Mobile's networks on Fi. If you're on a cushy, older T-Mobile plan though, you might be better staying put. CEO John Legere announced earlier this month that all of those juicy promo plans aren't going anywhere (unless you're still clinging to one with unlimited data).

Meanwhile, Sprint offers a flat $60 rate that promises unlimited talk, texting and data access each month, along with even slower international roaming in a handful of countries. It's important to note that some of Project Fi's broad strokes aren't exactly new -- we've seen upstarts like Republic Wireless and FreedomPop push the vision of a WiFi-centric mobile service for years now, so you could get a kinda-sorta similar experience for quite a bit less. Republic, for example, offers unlimited talk, text and 4G data for $40, though you'll lose out on Fi's network span and international chops.

Basically, you're going to the get more data for the price with Fi – at least that's true for new customers.

But if you're thinking about making the switch from a contractual service agreement, do know that Google will not pay your cancellation fees.

Can you get it, like, now?

Not exactly. Google is allowing people to sign up for an invite, however. In order to do so, you must check to see if where you live falls into Fi's coverage area. And you'll also have to have a Gmail account.

"If you requested an invite, you’ll hear from us in 30 days or less. Check your inbox for your invitation! Since we have a limited number of invites during the Early Access Program, we’ll use a few things to help us prioritize: network access in your zip code, whether Project Fi is ready for service in your area, and when your invitation request was submitted," says Google.

In conclusion...

To call Google's Project Fi a new entry into the wireless carrier field is both true and a bit misleading. Google is promising to deliver unlimited talk and text, as well as competitive date rates. Google Fi will be able to give you what you get from your current plan with AT&T or Verizon. In other words, Google Fi could replace your current cell plan and would need no augmentation.

But this is all in on the Nexus, and it's still in its nascent stages. "Similar to our Nexus hardware program, Project Fi enables us to work in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and all of you to push the boundaries of what’s possible. By designing across hardware, software and connectivity, we can more fully explore new ways for people to connect and communicate," says Google.

There sure is a lot of talk about "exploring" and "experimenting". At this point, Google Fi isn't a real competitor to your major telecoms. But that doesn't mean it can't have an impact.

You've seen what the mere presence of Google Fiber can do in a city.

Josh Wolford
Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf