Earlier this week, Google announced the upcoming Project Fi mobile service. A unique take on how consumers are charged for wireless connectivity, Project Fi is potentially awesome for some consumers and a novelty for others. Launching exclusively for Google Nexus 6 phones, there are a number of features that make the service stand out. Let’s take a look at them and see if Project Fi is right for you.
Billing — The aspect of Project Fi that seems to be getting the most attention is its costs and cost structure. The price is split into two parts. The mandatory basics cost $20, which includes unlimited domestic calls, unlimited texts (international included), inexpensive international rates, WiFi tethering, and coverage in 120+ countries. After that, customers select their data packages, which cost $10 per GB. The cool part is that the cost of unused data is credited to the customer’s account after each billing cycle. So if I have a 3GB plan and only use 2GB, my next bill will have a credit of $10. Overages are billed at the same $10 per GB rate, pro-rated, so a 350MB overage would cost $3.50. Project Fi plans do not require contracts and, as expected, the usual taxes and fees will be charged.
Network — Domestically, Project Fi will use a combination of the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. Between the two, consumers in large cities should have ample LTE coverage. Phones on Project Fi will automatically select the network with the best coverage at the given time. For those in rural areas, the use of these two networks could be a deal breaker. It all depends on how strong coverage is where you live, work, and play. For me, T-Mobile coverage is very strong in Los Angeles, while Sprint pretty much blows. In many rural areas, these networks are very weak compared to AT&T and Verizon.
WiFi — Project Fi will rely heavily on WiFi connectivity to complement LTE coverage. Calls can be made over WiFi, with Google promising seamless handoffs of calls transitioning from WiFi to LTE and vice versa. I’m curious to see how the software solution works, as current WiFi calling handoffs work well, but not quite great. Consumers can choose to receive their Project Fi calls on their phones (duh), computers, or tablets.
International Coverage — Google claims that Project Fi users will have coverage in 120+ countries. There are a few caveats though. Data rates are “limited to 256kbps (3G)” and call costs could add up if users aren’t careful. International data usage in countries where Google has roaming agreements is deducted from the user’s monthly bucket. For business users that need to reachable 24/7, the international roaming is potentially awesome and much cheaper than what the incumbents charge. Personally, I’d rather use a local SIM card so that I can have 4G data, but understand that some people need their phone number active at all times.
My Take — While I’m greatly intrigued by Project Fi, it’s not something that I care to try straight away. First off, I’m not high on the Nexus 6 — at all. I expect the service to be limited to Nexus phones for the next year or so (at least) and am more interested in the rumored Nexus 5 v2. As far as network coverage goes, most of the places I travel to domestically are covered nicely by T-Mobile, while having Sprint as a backup is nice a nice feature to have. The international coverage isn’t for me, since data is more important for my needs than having my domestic number reachable. I always go with a local 4G SIM when I travel abroad.
Even though Project Fi isn’t right for me at this time, I absolutely love what Google is trying to do with this service. Most American telecommunication companies suck. The prices (for single-line plans) are expensive for what’s delivered. Project Fi’s relatively inexpensive and easy-to-understand pricing is refreshing to see. Between T-Mobile’s aggressive initiatives and services like Project Fi, I hope the American mobile market gets the shakeup that it sorely needs.
Oh yeah, for people on family plans, Project Fi isn’t nearly as compelling. There are some great family deals out there and they make Google’s pricing seem banal.
While I’ll be watching Project Fi with great interest, I’m content with my iPhone 6 Plus on Verizon for personal/work use and my Nexus 5 on T-Mobile ($30 plan!) for Android work projects. What do you guys and gals think about Google’s service? Any of you thinking of requesting an invite? Do you think Project Fi will change the American mobile telecom market? Or is it another pie-in-the-sky initiative from Google? Leave a comment and let me know (please!).